Just say no to spelling tests!


When I was in elementary school, I started to get extreme headaches. My headaches would occur frequently (especially on Fridays) and were such a problem that my mom took me to the doctor because she was so concerned. I had children’s pain medication on hand in the nurse’s office for headaches that came on while I was at school. Years later, I finally figured out exactly why I was getting these debilitating headaches…Spelling Tests.

Every Friday, as far back as I can remember, I had to take weekly spelling tests. This is not uncommon, and most people can relate to this. Weekly spelling tests are a common education practice across the country. A list of spelling words would come home on Monday. We were expected to practice the words in different activities, and then take a test on those words at the end of the week. A lot of people would never think back to these Fridays and start immediately tensing up, but I do.

I don't ever remember getting 100% on any spelling test. Usually, my tests would bleed red from errors, and my grades would regularly fall in the 60% or less range. Many people would say, “Well, you just needed to practice more.” (I’m getting fired up just from writing that sentence!) I did practice. I practiced a lot. I always did my homework and, usually, I would do extra work to practice more. Despite my efforts, however, I would still fail. I would fail because I am dyslexic, which means I do not have a strong visual memory for words. It did not matter that I wrote each word 10 times, used them in sentences, wrote all the diacritic marks, or made flashcards and drilled in every spare moment. When it came time for the spelling test on Friday, I would not be able to remember the way most of the words were spelled and I would fail the test.

I can’t tell you how damaging this was to my self-esteem. I regularly came up with ways to hide my horrid spelling abilities from the people around me. My handwriting gradually got messier and messier, because if the words were illegible, no one could tell I misspelled them. As soon as I hit high school and teachers wanted everything typed, I used spell check like it was my right hand. I also had my mom edit everything. There was hardly a paper that was turned in that she didn’t see and edit first. Basically, I learned to cope. Despite all the spelling exercises my elementary teachers sent home, I never learned to spell well using th