What if the accountability system is focusing on the wrong questions? What if grade level proficiency is NOT the secret to America’s (or Florida’s) success? On second thought, why would anyone think that economic success would be the result of grade level proficiency? What actually makes someone “Career and College Ready”?
To date there has been NO evidence that current standards and testing will increase career and college readiness, let alone get someone “ready for the Global Workforce”. The Reformers have been unable to provide a clear definition as to what describes someone who is career and college ready, beyond a basic (somewhat low) score on the SAT, ACT or PERT. If you choose to use those parameters, after a decade of test-focused accountability reforms, it appears our “Career and College Readiness” must be declining along with our with SAT and ACT scores.
What we do know is that some students with high college readiness scores fail to complete college and/or obtain gainful employment afterwards. Also, some students, who were never successful in K-12 education go on to create business empires (Dave Thomas of Wendy’s, for example). The definition of success is as wide as an individual’s career opportunities. Is it possible to measure likelihood of future success with a few math and reading (or even AP) scores? Should we bother?
Honestly, to define career and college readiness is meaningless when you look at the real world. Let’s look at Gates himself. He has poured billions into the current education reform known as Common Core knowing that he himself was able to start up his own business, and be successful at it, without a college degree. He started a line of business that did not even exist. How many non-college degree kids are just like him? Many. They might never reach the level of financial success that he has, but few successful individuals ever do. Some of the greatest businesses or greatest personal success stories come from those who did not perform well on standardized tests. Some of these notables are listed here. Why so much focus on these tests today?
In 1965, President Johnson established the ESEA Act in order to combat the war on poverty. The goal was to set up a system of federal grants that would help infuse more federal dollars to low income schools throughout the nation. Since then, we have seen the rise of accountability measures. Why? Because people wanted guarantees that tax dollars being spent on education were in fact being used properly. Since that time, we have seen some rise in funding in education, yet our international scores (where we never excelled) have remained flat. Ignoring the fact that the U.S. economy flourished, and public schools educated individuals who went on to spawn the Silicon Valley, medical and biotechnological advances and the Space Program, the lack of improvement in test scores exacerbated a false narrative that public schools were failing U.S. children.
So while the U.S. economy was thriving, education “reformers” remained focused on the low test scores of our students and began adding more accountability measures that eventually micro managed our teachers, schools and districts. What has our return on investment been since that time? We have killed the love of learning and have turned our schools into factories that strive to check off certain benchmarks. So much focus was placed on the test scores, that education best practices have been ignored and actually learning appears to be a secondary goal.
I think everyone can agree that there should be some sort of assessment to gauge how students are progressing. By measuring all children, public school systems can minimize the number of children who “fall through the cracks.” If individual student data were used to inform instruction, to provide supports where needed, to demonstrate a program’s strengths and weaknesses, and to identify children in need of differentiated instruction, than testing could be quite helpful. Unfortunately, there is no measure that can, or should, show a small child whether they are on the tract to a successful life, whether that includes college and/or a well paying career. And even if there was, once high stakes are attached to those test scores, than the usefulness of the data is diminished. The game changes once there are stakes attached. The focus no longer becomes about using the scores as a measure, but using them to reward or punish those who have or have not achieved the targeted goals. Students are unique individuals who will grow, mature and learn at their own rates. They cannot all be expected to reach targeted goals at the same time. To attach high stakes to goals attained along a prescribed timeline is absurd, because few children will be appropriately assessed along that one contrived timeline.
There are just too many other factors that influence success; factors that are not easily defined. Creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurship are big ones. This is what truly makes our nation great. It is also not something that you can easily teach, you have to inspire. This is the reason why so many strive to come to the U.S. It’s because these concepts are synonymous with the U.S. and the concept of the American Dream. No matter who your parents are, where you live, what difficulties you had in the past, in this country you can change all that and come out ahead if you have the drive, passion and willingness to push forward. Education is key to any success, there is no denying that.
The role of education in my opinion, is to provide strong foundational knowledge and guidance in order to give kids kids room to grow and to take off from there. Schools should get out of the way of kids when they are pushing forward and should provide all kinds of supports for those that can and are willing to learn more and do more.
Over a year ago, I heard a high school student speak in front of his school board. His name was Ethan Young and he was spot on with his analysis of what is going on.
The task of teaching is not quantifiable. If everything I learning in high school is a measurable objective, I have not learned anything. Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness, these are impossible to scale, but they are the purpose of education… why our teachers teach and why I choose to learn. Today we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers. Everything is career and college preparation. Somewhere our founding fathers are turning in their graves, pleading, screaming and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach for the career to come naturally. November 6, 2013, Ethan Young. Click to listen to his full speech.
The gifted child should be as challenged as the struggling child. In the era of No Child Left Behind, that no longer is the case. Too often we are seeing gifted children being given more “projects,” supposedly going deeper into the very narrow standards and even narrower curriculum when they should in fact be accelerated. At the end of the day, if you have a gifted child, they will take the same standardized test that a general ed or struggling learner will take. Is that a fair gauge of career and college readiness for such a diverse group?
In the past, what distinguished our public education system from the rest of the world’s was that ALL children were educated and no one was placed on a path that was not of their choosing. Any child could reach for the stars and achieve greatness. The current system puts up road blocks rather than creating opportunities. Our current education system is based on putting in all kinds of check points on student progress that, instead of being a measure to help find strengths or weaknesses, are seen as road blocks where if a student doesn’t do well, they might get stuck. If a student does happen to do well, there is rarely a good system in place to help those kids accelerate and move further faster. Gifted students remain on the same path as their struggling counterparts.
If the goal is to be career and college ready, then the role and significance of these high stakes tests must change. We need to look at the right goals and the right problems so that we can come up with better, more appropriate solutions. Our teachers want their classroom time back. Returning the classroom time, wasted on testing and test prep, back to the teachers would be a good starting point. Eliminating the time spent focused on testing could free up teachers to once again differentiate or enrich instruction for more children.
So, instead of focusing on standardized test scores as a predictor of whether a child is career and college ready, let’s talk about what can be done to bring back an environment that encourages problem solving, rewards ingenuity and inspires creative thinking. Work to make schools a place where kids can once again walk through their classroom doors on a daily basis and feel empowered to take on the world. Is that too much to ask?