THE PERFECT SCORE, by Rob Buyea, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Oct. 3, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 9-12)
Standardized tests have become the rage of the American education system, and it seems like no one — from school administrators on down to teachers and students — like them. The controversial tests take center stage in The Perfect Score, by Rob Buyea.
The Perfect Score follows a group of students in Mrs. Woods’ sixth-grade class. The kids start the school year unsure how things will go. Mrs. Woods has come out of retirement to teach for this one year, and she seems as old as dust. What the kids didn’t expect is that they’d come to like Mrs. Woods, especially when she reads to them.
At first, it seems like school will be livable, and that’s good because everyone has outside challenges that are super stressful. Randi is an amazing gymnast, but all her mom can see are mistakes. Gavin struggles with reading and worries he’ll become just like his dad, a high school dropout. Trevor appears tough, but when he gets home, he becomes his big brother’s punching bag. Scott only wants to be friends, but he can’t understand why no one wants to be friends back. And then there’s Natalie. Natalie is a no-nonsense rule follower who can’t stand the chaos that seems to surround her classmates.
With all the outside pressures piling up on them, the kids can’t help but feel angry when the school administration starts amping up the assessment test pressure. Soon reading time is gone. So is recess. Even math gets turned upside down. Teachers are expected to teach to the test and nothing else.
As stress reaches an all-time high, one of the kids comes up with an idea of how the entire class can not only pass the test, but ace it. Once that’s done, things can return to normal. But no one ever thought about the ramifications of everyone getting the perfect score.
If not for its cast of quirky characters, The Perfect Score would read like a treatise against standardized testing. As it is, though, The Perfect Score feels grounded.
Author Rob Buyea tells The Perfect Score from multiple viewpoints, which helps to keep something like testing interesting. The varying perspectives move the story forward and help raise the stakes overall.
There were times when the author seemed to be pushing his agenda a little hard, but I expected that going into a book about testing. The Perfect Score is a fast-moving character-driven book that middle-graders will not only enjoy but relate to as well.
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