~There is an “ass” in every assessment~

I received an email from the guidance office that my 8th graders results from the EXPLORE exam will become available soon. The guidance counselors are going to give results to the students and discuss their performance with them. Apparently, this is now a required test (one among the constant siege of assessments) that is part academic (giving you a %ile ranking against other students in the country) and part career assessment and results are in. But I really don’t want them.

My daughter seemed to think many of the career option questions were surprising. A few examples are: “Would you like to build a picture frame?” “Would you enjoy being outside all day cutting down a tree?” “Would you like to assemble a couch?” “Would you like to trim hedges?” She told me she thought building a picture frame sounded fun but she wouldn’t want to build more than one. She also mentioned that NONE of the vocations presented were particularly appealing to her. She said, “I just checked ‘indifferent’ for over half of the career choices.” Great.

I find the usefulness of this assessment a bit unusual, as I know several students who got back “lumberjack” as a likely top career path. Is there a high demand for lumberjacks? What high school classes should you focus on taking if you want to be a lumberjack? Maybe they will need all that wood for the picture frames. I don’t know. Clearly these students checked YES to the tree-chopping question. Suffice it to say…we will see about this test.

Anyway, I am particularly wary as I am reminded of my own memorable relationship with the guidance office, which boils down to 10 minutes in 1988. As a high school student I was on track to complete requirements and it wasn’t a choice in my house growing up whether or not I was going to college. I was going. If there were alternatives to that road, my parents did not offer them up and I was too afraid to ask. I’m pretty sure it would have killed them if I had even suggested that I wasn’t going.

In the fall of my Senior year, I met with my counselor. I can remember sitting in the guidance office on a hard plastic chair and the wall behind me was covered with college brochures. I liked the ones with the pretty landscapes that featured boys that looked like Gaston from Beauty and The Beast, wearing plaid flannels. Montana State University…you had a compelling brochure. Sign.Me.Up.  I had already decided I should find a school that offered Journalism as a major and had a dance program. I had an interest in writing and dance. (Of course it didn’t happen that way…story for another day)

I took the ACT because I knew I would stay in MN (goodbye Montana). No need to take the SAT as I was not willing to stray too far from my family. The first time I took it, I had a horrible cold and took A LOT of Benadryl before I went in. I do NOT recommend doing that. It will make you very calm during the exam but your throat will feel like you swallowed a wool sweater and your eyes will cross quite a bit, making things a lot tougher on the math section.

Needless to say, my score was not great.

I applied to 3 places to go to college. When I hear about epic cross-country searches that families go on now looking at 10, 12, 15 college campuses, I am floored. I’ve heard high school students talk about considering schools based on programs, price, athletics, financial aid, grad school opportunities, family alma maters, size, friends, and weather. My approach was more draw a tiny circle around my parent’s home on a map and pick a school that had journalism and dance.  Ah, educational decision-making in the 1980’s…simple bliss.

My high school counselor was gung-ho to have me sign up at either the giant local University or a small private college in the city. I had already been accepted to those schools and the counselor acted like ‘case closed’. I had applied to one more school and it was my top choice. I was waiting to hear back. Oh, and I was also waiting for my results of my second attempt at the ACT (my non- drugged score).

The counselor said (something like) this:

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. Even if you get in Jennifer, I don’t think you are likely to be successful there. You are not their type of student.”

I didn’t hear anything he said after that.


There is a Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Like I said, I spent a total of 25 minutes talking to this person in my entire life. All I know is that he told me I would not be successful and at 17 I was just aiming too high. But it was the way he made me feel that stuck.

He made me feel, rattled.

Oh and completely enraged. Rattled and pissed off, which is a very dangerous combination in a teenage girl. He was a brave dude.  And if you thought I was dangerous, you should have heard what my parents said when I told them about my little trip to the guidance office. Fortunately, they were not violent people but I learned a few new colorful descriptors that day.

What kind of guidance counselor says, “Nah, don’t even bother”?

Hey, the counselor was not a bad person. I’m sure I didn’t fit the profile. I was a strong student but I wasn’t a 4.0 student.  I wasn’t winning any awards with my grades.  My first ACT score was certainly not consistent with top-tier students. It probably wasn’t consistent with people who took the exam who were AWAKE. I’m guessing the counselor was trying to protect me from myself, or have me set realistic expectations. But he underestimated me in two areas. First, he didn’t know about 16,567 positive messages I had collected and saved up assuring me that I would achieve anything I set out to achieve. Period. Second, the counselor did not know that my strongest skill is one that cannot be measured in grades or ACT scores. Will.

I’m definitely in the top 1% nationally in the category of will.

Long story short-I went to the college choice behind door #3. They took me or I took them-we chose each other and it was a mostly positive relationship. I survived. There were a lot of extremely bright students in my classes and then there were a lot of others (man, I could tell a few great stories here but I won’t).   The fact is, there was a stunning range of IQ, academic background, attendance (ahem), work ethic, perseverance, etc. It was the best college choice for me of the 3 options. It worked out.

I don’t know what the Explore exam is going to say about my girl. It’s just one test; it’s just one data point, just one assessment and one opinion, blah blah blah. It’s easy for me to say on this side of things.

But, I’m tempted to fold her results into an elaborate origami swan…and then use it for kindling. She has such a long way to go. She is 13 years old. I don’t want the hard numbers to plant a seed in her mind that grows into an invasive weed.   So help me God if it says her most viable option is lumberjack. She isn’t interested in being a lumberjack.

And if I find the results or anyone who encourages her to lower her expectations and settle…it’s going to be me wielding an axe.

2 thoughts on “~There is an “ass” in every assessment~

  1. Love this Jen. I feel the same way about all of these pre-tests, etc. It’s way too early for our girls to map out their path. My son has been on a path since he was 2 years-old, what would have happened had he been told he should be a lumberjack rather than a filmmaker or actor? I don’t think I ever looked at his results. They can give the test, that doesn’t mean we have to look at it.


  2. Yay for door #3. Hang on to those Explore results…they will be fodder for a good laugh down the road. I also remember my 10 minutes with the counselor in 1988, no real encouragement was given to me either. Sad how strongly those words imprinted in my memory.


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