Last week, Collegeboard announced that they would be making changes to their flagship exam, the SAT. Among these changes include shifting the scale back to 1600 instead of 2400, making the essay optional, and changing the questions so that they pull from a broader knowledge base. And to help students prepare for this new exam, Collegeboard is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test prep resources for students.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. It’s great that Collegeboard is recognizing the enormous pitfalls of the current SAT and that they are taking steps toward changing how their test is done. But it’s insufficient for what colleges and universities need, and nowhere near sufficient for what students need in terms of a proper and holistic assessment of who they are.
Standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. (tweet that)
Collegeboard states that standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but I fail to see how the changes to the SAT actually resolves the issues stated. Even with the proposed changes to the test, the test is still a standardized test that outputs a numerical, “standardized” score.
What’s the Problem with Standardization?
Our modern world is all about standardization. Companies use standard metrics in order to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of their business and employees, governments use standards in order to enforce regulations that help keep a nation in order, and the current trend toward big data is a huge industry for potential growth simply because everything can be tracked.
The train of thought goes something like “Well it works for evaluating performance, products, and services, let’s apply the same thing to evaluating students!”
But what people fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people (tweet that). People aren’t products. People can’t simply be treated as another data point on a graph, because people are so much more than that. Humans are social creatures that adapt, mold, and transform into different personalities, shapes, and emotions. People were never made to be compared, they were made to work together, share ideas, and live together on earth.
People fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people. (tweet that)
In the culture and era of the world that we live in today, collaboration is the only way industries will move forward. CEOs and business leaders talk at great lengths about how beyond the work of the company and the business model, there has to be a solid team behind what the company is doing. One of the greatest challenges in the corporate world today is how to hire people that not only have the proper skill set, but are also a culture fit into their company, because collaboration and teamwork are the building blocks of a company or business.
However, a standardized test that’s built to compare one high school student to another breeds competition rather than collaboration. No wonder so many business leaders complain about the communication and teamwork skills of recent college graduates; they were raised in a system that teaches the exact opposite.
What Can We Do About This?
So now the question becomes “how can we create an assessment that captures the essence of a student in a way that doesn’t compare students to each other in a competitive way?”
The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.
The purpose of an effective and sufficient assessment of students is to encapsulate a good representation of who this student is, complete with a holistic picture of all of their strengths and weaknesses compiled into a way that someone reading the results can interpret who their are and what their strengths are without actually spending time with them.
The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.
What if instead of a test score, the test provided a spectrum of different areas representing a student’s strengths and weaknesses, listing out attributes such as creativity, work ethic, leadership, communication, background, learning aptitude, grit, entrepreneurialism, resourcefulness, etc?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and will write my proposal for a new testing model in a future post.
What would a test like that look like? and how would it help students have a different approach?
I’ve shared before that in my younger days, I thought I didn’t like reading.
It wasn’t until I nearly turned 18 that I found my love for reading books about real life situations and perspectives.
This year, I’m going to try to read as many books as I can. Books are pretty much a compilation of a person’s life work and life lessons, and by sitting down for a couple of hours and fifteen dollars, I can get a glimpse into a successful person’s process.
Even if I only get one thing out of a book, it was worth it.
In a casual conversation I had a couple weeks ago, I was sharing some of the books that had completely changed my life, and one of my friends asked me how I had so much time to read so much.
The truth is, I don’t have time not to be reading. By reading the lives of people, I am effectively getting perspective from their lives about the challenges they faced and how they overcame the challenges. By reading books, I am actually helping myself save time. I become more aware of the problems and the questions long before they come up in my personal life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I go out and read every single thing that I can find. I’m a big advocate of watching what content you consume. My focus then, is taking the time to figure out what I am learning from each book that I read. Reading reviews is a helpful way to determine whether a book will be helpful for me or not.
In the wise words in Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger,
You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.
Everywhere means nowhere.
When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.
Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong.
Oh. And follow me on goodreads.
I finally received my first kickstarter project last week, and needless to say I check up on my plants every couple of hours to see if they have any new developments.
I backed the Smart Herb Garden from Click & Grow, and it’s thrilling to watch my plants grow.
It reminds me how, as a kid in science class, we would grow and dissect pea plants much like Mendeleev did in the nineteenth century, except we would experiment with growing plants in the light versus the dark.
Of course, the Smart Herb Garden makes planting herbs (of the legal sort) a breeze. All I have to do is put in cartridges into the garden, fill up the water tank, and my collection of thyme, lemon balm, and basil will automatically grow itself.
If only there was something I could do to speed up the growing process. I just want it to grow faster.
And that’s who I’ve been for most of my life. Always wanting to grow faster, learn more, and look ahead. I always find myself with people significantly older than me, because I find more interest in what they are doing and what they have to say.
But much like those plants in the garden, some things just take time, and there’s no way around it.
The beauty in gardening is that nature has it’s own course and it’s own timing. The gardener is there merely to facilitate it and provide the conditions necessary for the plant to grow.
Gardening really teaches many people many things. Sam Levin revolutionized a whole education system through gardening.
The life of a farmer is becoming more appealing every moment.
The school system is built upon assessment. It’s constantly assessing it’s students, giving them grades based on how well they match up to standards. No child left behind, race to the top, and common core are fundamentally based high stakes testing, evaluating students through their performance on multiple choice exams.
I’m not pointing fingers toward anyone specifically, but merely adding to a meaningful conversation that gets people to critically think about current system of education. I am not bashing on teachers, students or administrators in any way shape or form.
What is school for?
From a perspective that holds the grand scheme of economies and cultures in mind, the role of schools is to facilitate development of children into productive and powerful members of society by providing them with opportunities and access to resources for their learning.
The whole premise of education is to provide instruction so that children are prepared with knowledge and insight to the past, present, and future of our world.
However, the approach that most schools take is that they assess students like factories test products. As Ethan Young so eloquently put it, it works for products, transportation, etc, why doesn’t it work with students?
Check out this interview I did with NBC’s Education Nation to hear some more perspectives on college.