Lest anyone interpret all my recent pradling on about “student interest” and “learning at one’s own pace” as suggesting that these “soft” and perhaps even “new age-inspired” educational values should replace the need for “academic excellence”, let me spill a few words about that.
Academic understanding simply means that a student grasps what is being presented. Nothing wrong with that, it’s desirable even. The point I’ve tried to make here is that our schools have focused exclusively on academics, on test scores, and two things have been made victim in this pursuit. The first is that test scores – the only measure of “excellence” used – focus on right answers and not on understanding or meaning-making (more here). Answers that one knows but which are not understood fully are empty- devoid of value for the “knower”. We need an approach that builds meaning and understanding for students, that’s a real measure of academic excellence. Remembering data, answers, is not a measure of much, surely not of excellence. The present belief that academic learning can be measured by tests and their scores is the first victim of this narrow concern.
The second victim is “all the rest”. Ask an adult what makes people successful. Ask them to describe people who “generally get along well in life” and what you’ll find is a lovely list of characteristics that actually make a difference in one;s life: perseverance, critical thinking, responsibility, compassion, leadership, self-discipline, and the like. With the narrow pursuit of “excellent test scores” we’ve left behind all that really makes a difference. As all the dislexic entrepreneurs how they got to where they are. Similarly, it turns out that SAT scores are a terrible predictor (The SAT is a flawed predictor) of how someone will perform in college (yet it’s still a huge factor in who gets in and where).
Standards are huge, but let’s have standards for things that matter. If an education is a process that helps you to be prepared to live your life fully and successfully, then much more will be required than the ability to take a test- and indeed, THAT will not prepare you for anything other than “test taking” which bears little resemblance to life.
Time to change the education conversation? Let’s talk about standards for what?