Friday, August 31, 2012

Transform education by measuring what matters. Hint: It's not test scores.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ethics behind corporations running schools and thus profiting off students. But if we’re really concerned about folks profiting off our kids why aren’t we spending more time focusing on assessment? If we do away with measuring success with test scores the result would be billions saved that could go toward resources and personnel dedicated to support students.

Let’s face it: Teachers know and parents are waking up to the fact that these tests are one of the most expensive and least effective ways to measure student or teacher success. So why are we willing to let policymakers forcibly impose this corporate-driven assessment from companies like Pearson upon our children even if it makes them sick???

What if instead we measured success in things that really mattered to students, parents and teachers.  

For example...

Students have:

  • A plan to find and develop their passion(s).
  • A team of mentors, guidance, and/or advisors to help guide them in discovery and development of their passions.
  • Customized success plans that they help design.
  • Advisors who are deeply involved in and responsible for their lives and their success.
  • An opportunity to learn about what they are interested in the world with real world experts.
  • Reported they are satisfied with support they receive from the school.
  • An authentic portfolio that can be used for career, academic, or civic pursuits.

Teachers and schools are measured by:

  • Success is moving students along to
    • Career
    • College and/or
    • Civic endeavors

that enable them to achieve their plans and goals for personal success.

Pie in the sky?


The ability to do this, do it at scale, and report progress already exists.

Here’s how it works?

Primary Schools
For primary schools it works by incorporating the Schoolwide Enrichment Model and Total Talent Portfolio. In schools incorporating this model students and their teachers know they’ve got talent and they build upon students talents, interests, passions, ability and learning styles.  This method honors the idea that children are more than numbers and data. Instead they use Total Talent Portfolios to help them pursue engaging activities in areas of deep personal interest. The portfolio reveals that our children are unique individuals who are represented by much more than a number but instead what they have done with samples of real work and meaningful work that is not just handed in but worthy of the world. Visit this and this to see what this looks like in action..

Secondary Schools
See how this works for secondary students by checking out Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor’s Big Picture School model. As I reported earlier this year, these schools take on the responsibility of ensuring each student moves on to the college, career, or experience that aligns with their interests and goals and their teachers are evaluated on their ability to help make that happen.  

This is possible. It can be done. It is being done. It is the corporations that are getting in the way with infiltrating our schools with the multi-billion dollar testing industry that is good for politicians and good for business, but we all know this is not good for children and is robbing them of the very resources they need for success.

If we work to move the conversation to measuring success by meeting our student’s personal goals in college, career, and/or life experiences we accomplish these goals:

  • Instead of teaching to the test we teach to the student.
  • Billions of dollars are restored toward resources for students.
  • Schools are held accountable, not for test scores, but for placement in what matters: college, career, and/or civic duty.

Here are three things we can do about this.
  1. Demand this data from schools.
  2. Opt out of tests.
    • There is a group for doing so in every state on Facebook. Find it by searching “Opt out of standardized tests” followed by the name of your state.
  3. Talk to politicians about alternatives.

Let's stop celebrating test scores and accepting the status quo. Our children deserve to be more than a number. They deserve more than to be prepared to be compliant little beings who memorize, regurgitate and fill in bubbles on demand..OR ELSE! Parents and teachers must stand up for what matters for our children. The evidence is not one-size-fits-all tests. Instead let's honoring and recognizing the personalized success plans that are unique to each child and prepare them to move on to the college, career, and/or civic experience that will help them achieve their goals.


  1. We already have the means to PERSONALIZE so much of a user's experience via technology such as social media! WHY aren't we doing that for LEARNING?

    1. Because Americans have handed over the raising and education of our children to government who is allowing publishers to make billions off our children. There is too much money on the line to do what is right for children.

  2. Dear Lisa -

    I am basically in agreement with you re assessment via tests. A quick story. When I went for my teaching license way back when, the NYCBOE (as it was then called) appointed teachers to teaching positions strictly based on a written test. The higher one's score, the sooner one was appointed to a school. Obviously, the written test said nothing about a person's potential effectiveness as a classroom teacher. As we know, this has changed. In the same way assessment of student learning and progress needs to change.

    Testing costs - In the early 1990s, the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy (CSTEEP), at Boston College, calculated a "high" estimate of $22.7 billion spent on standardized testing per year. Their estimate breaks down to about $575 per student per year. A report from the federally-funded Center for Research on Education, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) counted cost components in much the same way as the CSTEEP study estimated costs of a certain state test at between $848 and $1,792 per student tested ($1,320 would be mid-range).

    Some claim these estimates are way too high, as they include not just the cost of testing, but the estimated cost of any activities "related to" a test as costs of the test. Things such as preparing materials related to the assessment program for classroom use, and the present value of student time spent preparing for the test. They claim the more accurate costs would be those charged by the testing companies, which were $20 to $70 per student in 2006.

    Let’s say we split the difference and settle on $200 per student (and remember these are numbers that are at least 6 to 15 years old). The National Center for Education Statistics ( says this fall there will be 49.8 million public school students nationwide; even at a non-inflation adjusted rate of $200 per student that would be close to $10 billion dollars. Even considering the low cost of $20 per student, we would be talking about $1 billion.


    (By the way, the stats I quote are from