Stop letting schools measure and compare your kids.
We are nearing the end of “testing season” in public school. Students and schools have been focused on end-of-year assessments for the final quarter of the school year. Some teachers begin test prep in early March, while others wait until April. All are concerned about whether the students in their classrooms have met the standard.
But there is a problem with standards and standardized testing. Human beings, especially children, are not standardized. We are all different, and asking a child to learn the same thing by the same age in life is detrimental to their well-being.
Test anxiety is heightened during the final months of school. High-stakes testing anxiety is real and experienced by students and teachers alike. This anxiety is brought on by a comparison to an arbitrary standard and whether one will measure up to the expectations these standards create.
Schools have begun comparing students earlier and earlier in their lives. There are prekindergarten standards and assessments that are given by public school preschools.
All kindergarten students are measured and compared before the school year begins. As a teacher and principal, I watched kindergarten teachers bring in every student for thirty minutes before their first day of classes and administer a standardized test. This was every student’s first experience of public school.
That doesn’t honor the student’s individuality.
Sir Ken Robinson had a famous TED talk where he tells the story of Gillian Lynne . When Gillian was eight, her teachers told her mother that she had a learning disability. Her mother took Gillian to a specialist, who observed Gillian and told her mother that she isn’t sick, but a dancer. Her mother then took Gillian to a dance school. Gillian went on to be a professional dancer and choreographer, joining the Royal Ballet in London and doing the choreography for Cats.
Imagine if her mother, instead of listening to the doctor, had tried to put Gillian on medication and send her back to her original school. We likely would have lost this great artist. Unfortunately, this happens every day in our public, and many private, schools.
Motivation to learn vanishes when measurement is used to compare against an arbitrary standard. This is supported by Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes the target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Learning standards have not just become the measure, but the target too.
I’m not advocating for anyone to stop providing feedback and guidance. Feedback when given as a way to improve individually is amazingly motivating. Setting and achieving individual goals provides incredible satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Parents, mentors, and teachers should give timely and accurate feedback based upon a student’s goal. But when feedback is given as a way of comparison, it steals motivation away.
We all want our children to achieve greatness, and they can. But not if we compare them to others. Arbitrary standards measured by a high-stakes test undermine the greatness they can achieve.