Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Measuring Value

Last week, my son had the pleasure of taking his fifth grade writing SOL (standards of Learning) test. He spent a little time worrying about the writing section the night before and I tried to comfort him by saying “writing is a genetic thing; this should be a breeze for you.” He replied by saying, “what if I take after mom?”

I really wanted to tell him not to worry because in reality his score on this test means nothing whatsoever to him or his future; there is no consequence for failure, at least for my son. This is troubling, because there are serious consequences for his school and teachers if pass rates are not adequate. Imagine that, a system that holds teachers and schools accountable on a metric that means nothing to a student.

I grow more disappointed in the education of my children as I witness the focus on math and language arts instruction increasing to the detriment of other subjects. My fifth grade son spends nearly as many hours per week in school on math and language arts as he does on every other activity combined, including lunch. He attends an excellent school and his teachers are exceptional, but this is the result of flawed educational policy. With accreditation depending on student performance in these two areas, schools have little choice but narrow their focus on these subjects until they are certain their students (who are not accountable for the outcome) will earn a passing score.

This will only get worse when the state of Virginia jumps on the “value-added” bandwagon and representatives in Richmond consider “growth-model” legislation tying teacher evaluations to student standardized testing results.

In our race for accountability to guarantee qualified teachers and quality schools, we have made a terrible mistake:

We have begun to value what is easily measured and we’ve stopped measuring what is valuable!

Several years ago, I dropped my son off at school and watched his P.E. teacher assist him out of the car and into the building. In those few seconds, I learned perhaps the greatest teaching lesson of my career. When I leave my children at the schoolhouse door, more than anything else in the world I want them to be surrounded by loving, nurturing adults who I can trust to have their best interests at heart.

I do not want my son’s fifth grade teacher to earn an evaluation of exceptional or adequate because his standardized math test grades increased two points from last year to this year. I do not want my daughter's third grade teacher deemed unsatisfactory because her students did not manage to show growth on the standardized language arts testing over second grade. I want to commend them for making my children enjoy learning and encouraging them to take their lessons out of the classroom and into their world.

Let’s stop valuing what is easily measured and do the hard work of measuring what is truly valuable for our children.


  1. "It is not what you are, it is who you are"

  2. Mr. T! Congrats! I read about your recent victory in The Hook, which lead to me finding your blog. What a crazy coincidence that I stumbled across your blog and read this post just after attending this last night:

    It was all tied into the viewing of this short film at the start of the discussion (seriously, check it out if you haven't seen it-you've probably seen it already though):

    RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms:

  3. Tom,

    Great to hear from you; thanks for sharing the video.