"Why are people upset about test scores? There are way more important things in the world!"
Those words were stated by my 7-year-old son, Brooks, when he overheard a conversation between my bride, a 14-year educator, and me discussing the less than stellar results of the “latest and greatest” form of standardized testing our state has to offer.
During an interview for an assistant principal position many years ago, the principal told me, “All of your fun ideas relating to culture and climate are great, but at the end of the day every student has a number attached to them.” A few days later, I politely declined this job offer.
Reflecting upon these moments in time, I came to this conclusion: If a 7-year-old 1st grader gets it, why are so many adults struggling to grasp this concept as well?
As a society, America has a habit of narrowing our scope of focus into specific, one-track choices. Case in point: From a very early age, we are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In our early youth, this is a fascinating question--because at this point in our lives, our imagination is still permitted to run as wild as the mustangs, lending itself to such musings as Disney illustrators, firefighters, or musicians. All of these answers are perfectly acceptable at the time because, after all, we’re “just a kid.”
Ask almost any high school student, however, what question they dread the most about family gatherings, and the answer will almost exclusively be the same: Where are you going to school and what are you going to do with your life? Don’t take my word for it…ask your kids!
Somewhere between our elementary and high school years, we are expected to have sharpened our focus on this great thing called life to the point that we know exactly where we want to go and what we want to do. Not only do we feel obliged to have an answer, but also that answer must be deemed as “acceptable” by the adults in the room. As such, the majority of our students are pressured, by their very own family members, into careers that they truthfully are not interested in pursuing in an effort to be accepted and pleasing to their mentors.
This phenomenon lends itself to our nation’s current fixation on test scores, grade point averages, and the caliber and quantity of college acceptance letters our youth have attained.
To that point, I say this: Do you know how many times I have been asked what I scored on my ACT, what my high school or college GPA was, how many honors or AP courses I took, or even where I went to school when interviewing for a job? Zero. None. Nada. Not once.
Today’s high school students are under scrutinizing pressure that most adults and even their own families cannot even fathom in an effort to please people who are pressuring them into a career field that many don’t even want to pursue.
And if you really want to talk about pressure, riddle me this: What other profession in the world has their job security tied to the test results of youth ranging in age from 8 to 18 years old? Educators often feel the weight of the world on their shoulders as they prepare students, oftentimes with little or no support system in place at home, to take a test about a subject area that they may or may not be interested in learning about that the educators are not even privy to see!
What do we do with new educators when they come to our building? We give them the “standard” level classes, of course. Good luck with those test scores…as we set them up for failure before they have even started.
Have you ever felt pressure from taking or giving a test? Have you worried about what the results of the test would be? Have you ever watched a classmate, student, or peer stress over a test? Have you ever felt failure from the results of a test? Has a test stolen the joy you once had for this great profession?
Enough is enough. A test score does not define you, albeit as a student or an educator. Do they play a role in our society? Yes. Do they dictate the level of success you will have in your life? No. That’s where things like work ethic, character, and philanthropy come into play. You see, my friends, quality people beat test scores Every. Single. Time.
Have you ever hired a contractor and asked for references concerning their ELA test scores? Or required them to meet a minimum ACT benchmark? Or, did you do research to learn about the quality of their work, their trustworthiness, and their ability to complete a job in a timely and reliable manner?
A recent report released by none other than Harvard University further supports this argument. In the report, titled “Turning the Tide,” recommendations are made to place a greater emphasis on the quality of the applicant as a person, taking into account such factors as their meaningful contributions to the common good, their ethical engagement and contributions to various groups of race, gender, and social class, and their level of gratitude and sense of responsibility for the future.
If it’s good enough for Harvard, maybe it’s time that the rest of us take notice…
My son is not, and will not ever be, a number.
As an educator, my students become my kids, and under no circumstance will they ever be treated as a number--because each and every single one of them, regardless of their background, ability level, or their dreams and aspirations, deserves the opportunity to dream as wildly and daringly as their hearts desire. I see my kids as entrepreneurs, contractors, educators, and the like, not as basic, proficient, or advanced, and I will never compromise on that belief.
And so, if there are youth present at your next family gathering, I beg you not to ask what they want to be when they grow up, how school is going, or how they scored on their ACT/SAT. Instead, ask them how they’ve helped someone recently, how are they giving back to their community, and, if you dare, ask them about their legacy and their wildest dreams. After all, there are way more important things in the world!