A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the author is straightforwardly raising an issue of great importance to children: the use and misuse of grades and testing in school. But the way the main character goes about it is questionable at best, raising even more issues -- giftedness, protest, rebellion, and achievement.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Nora is a genius, but since early childhood she has hidden that fact from both teachers and family. She doesn't like to be different, to perform, to have people stare at her, to be expected to achieve according to someone else's rules. So she goes underground, keeps her giftedness to herself, and tries to fit in. But in fifth grade everything changes.
When she sees her best friend feel stupid because he did poorly on the standardized achievement tests, she decides to protest grades by getting low ones. But the attention this draws from her parents and the school leads to her secret being revealed, and her worst fears being realized: her school wants her in the gifted program, her parents want her in an exclusive academy, and everyone starts treating her differently. Perhaps a school-wide testing protest is the answer.
Is it any good?
No one does school stories better than former teacher Andrew Clements. He knows the inner workings of schools, he writes for middle schoolers better than almost anyone, and his stories are usually effervescent delights that flow seamlessly along from start to perfect finish: not the way things do work, but the way they should. Here he has decided to go for more realism -- Nora's protest doesn't sweep the school, make the national news, or start a revolution. Rather than an unabashed triumph over the system of testing and grades, Nora accomplishes little besides being allowed to have some say in the direction of her life.
Since Clements has so clearly stated the problems with this system, some readers may find the ending disappointing, a rarity in his novels. But it may get both kids and adults thinking about the subject and, since he has provided no template for real change, wondering for themselves how things could be made different.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about grades and testing. Do you think grading and testing are good ways to assess achievement?
Is one a better tool than the other? Why or why not?
How could teachers and students measure progress if testing was abandoned?
Families can also talk about protest. Do you think Nora's approach was justified?
Would you have done things differently?