Sunday, June 11, 2017
Book Review: The Perfect Score
The story is told from the points-of-view of five different 6th grade students, similar to Buyea's wonderful Terupt trilogy. Score's protagonists - under-pressure gymnast Randi, struggling reader Gavin, big-hearted Scott, bully Trevor, and know-it-all Natalie - could be any student in your class. We meet this fab five in Mrs. Woods' 6th grade class. Woods, a firm yet fair teacher with high expectations, doesn't miss a trick with her students. She is an expert at the read aloud, holds the kids to the highest of standards, and goes to bat for her students. Woods is someone I aspire to be. The students split their time between Woods and Mrs. Magenta, whose math and science classes are less about the right answer and more about solving problems, critical analysis, and thinking outside. However, there's a frostiness between the two teachers that adds to the rising tension in the story.
As the school year progresses, the students, teachers, and administration become caught up in preparing for the CSAs, or Comprehensive Student Assessments. In short, it's the PARCC. School becomes less about what's best for the students and more about "acing" the test. The teachers are exhausted, the kids are angry, and the administration is feeling enormous pressure. It's this testing pressure that leads Scott - whose heart is always in the right place, but often doesn't think things through - to come up with a way for everyone to "ace" the test. The kids are thrilled with Scott's plan, each for his own reason, and all 25 students in Mrs. Woods' class decide that they want in. Of course, things don't always go to plan, and the consequences of the kids' actions are unexpected.
Man, oh man, did I love this book. The characters, and the problems that lead them to make the choices they do, are really well-developed. When I first met them, I labeled them just as I did when writing this piece. I judged them. But as the story moved forward, it was clear that there was so much more to each of them than meets the eye, and I really enjoyed the complexity of each character revealing itself. Buyea also does a wonderful job of giving life to each character's unique voice through diction, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Scott speaks in long, rambling sentences that mirror his thought process. Natalie speaks as though she's writing legal briefs, and Gavin's thoughts are sprinkled with football metaphors. You will fall in love with these five. You will cheer for them. You will cry for them. You will feel their overwhelming anxiety.
As a teacher, I was also extremely grateful to Buyea for shedding light on the pressures of standardized testing, not just from the students' perspectives, but also from those of teachers and administration. Woods' confrontation of Principal Allen - accidentally heard over the classroom loudspeaker - was one of my favorites to read. The teachers and administration in this book said and thought what so many of us wish we could. Thanks for giving us that voice.
This book hits stores October 3, 2017. My copy is hitting the road on its way to various members of my #bookexpedition crew. It will travel from Chicago to Maryland to California to New York and many points in between. I can't WAIT to get it back, full of sticky-noted thoughts and reactions of my bookish friends! This is one that I KNOW my 5th graders will absolutely love, and I'm really excited for them to see the journey The Perfect Score took this summer!