Collaboration in the classroom

What we value deepens learning, not what we measure

January 23, 2019 / By

Are we impressed by…
1. High test scores
2. Good grades
3. High GPA
4. Compliant behavior
5. Perfect attendance

Or are we impressed by…
1. Creating outside the box
2. Communicating effectively
3. Sincerity
4. Integrity
5. Grit

As educators, which list impresses you the most? Which list do we want our students to be impressed by?

When I tweet this out, I often get comments that these 2 lists shouldn’t be exclusive; that we should be impressed by both. In education, we often say we value the second list (creating outside the box, communicating effectively, sincerity, integrity, grit), but we continue to measure the first list (test scores, grades, compliant behavior), because it’s easier, more objective, and more quantifiable. Also, the first list fits into our outdated approaches to the furthering ossification and aging structures of antiquated systems of measuring learning: tests, grades, attendance, and behavior. Not only does the top list measure just a select few intelligences, it measures them poorly.

I believe the first list measures a student’s ability to be compliant and follow the rules. A student could check everything off  the first list and nothing in the second list, but in our current measures for success, we’d label that student high achieving, an honor student, ready for the “real world.”  As educators, we know that this isn’t true. Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elton John, JK Rowling, Whoopi Goldberg, etc. are just a few examples of very successful people who have faced failure, rejection, and hardships and would not have checked off the top list.

We often alienate the second list as “21st century skills”, or skills for success in life, but deprioritize them when we continue to reward and base our whole accountability system on the top list. As leaders, we have a responsibility to redefine what it means to achieve, in a way that honors the natural learning process and  our many differences that make us remarkable learners and human beings. If we set the bottom list as standards to aspire to, all students would see themselves as achievers and would push themselves beyond the expectations set for them. If we truly value the bottom list and find those dispositions and skills to be impressive indicators for success, we’ll no longer say both lists are important. Instead, our actions will show we value creativity over credit, process over perfection, and growth over grades.