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Beyond Standardized Tests: Redefine Students' Readiness to Thrive After Graduation

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The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life - Jane Addams

A New York Times article written by Motoko Rich questioned the value of the high school diploma in response to the NAEP results. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses twelfth-grade academic preparedness for postsecondary education and training. The standard expects students scoring at or above 163 on the NAEP mathematics scale, and students scoring at or above 302 on the NAEP reading scale are most likely to have gained the knowledge, skills, and abilities in those two subjects that makes them academically prepared for college. The 2013 data revealed 30% tested as prepared for college in mathematics and 38% were prepared for college in reading. These results come at a time when the push for college and career readiness has been a renewed focus for our graduates. In Rich's article, Education Professor Russell W. Rumberger of from the University of California, Santa Barbara was quoted:

As the number of students graduating from high school rises, "It's a push and pull between rigorous standards that are harder to meet and less rigorous standards that are easier to meet but don't necessarily ensure that you know that much."

Where does this leave the local school leaders and teachers? Rather than hunkering down in an atmosphere of compliance, why not take advantage of the common confusions and frustrations and create a new atmosphere? It is possible to build community capitalizing on frustrations and confusion. We can galvanize energy with a common purpose: to meet students where they are and develop them as learners with care and attention. Focus on what the diploma represents. 

Redefining Ready
Standards and accountability are minor players in the development of students as learners. Based upon the research of people like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Steven Pinker, Howard Gardner, and Robert Sternberg, education must be responsive to each child's unique needs, capitalize on each child's strengths, and grant the child autonomy so he or she can take the responsibility for learning (Zhao pp. 155-156).

We know that. Teachers and leaders alike have been calling for students to be seen as more than a number earned on a standardized test. We know that our intention is to prepare them for college and career, but the focus on standardized measurement has pulled attention away from the other measures that count as well. Multiple measures to assess and demonstrate readiness need to be returned as central. The high school diploma holds the potential to help pull attention away from the singular measures of standardized tests.

Perhaps this will uncover a need to change the schedule for students and teachers, to change the way interventions are offered, a need to change assessments, report cards and curriculum. Might grades be shifted from quizzes and tests to include portfolios and performance, report cards to a new and different way of communicating progress and achievement, and curriculum to be more flexible, interdisciplinary, authentic and applied? Perhaps it will give rise to a curiosity about how other schools do things...not only those that are close, but those who are far away where common knowledge of their practices remain unknown to you. This is the work to be done at the district level. 

One option can be found in the support of a national organization. The American Association of School Administrators' (AASA) new initiative is called Redefining Ready. Their intention is to create a community of leaders who can "propose new research-based metrics and indicators to more authentically and appropriately assess and demonstrate high school graduates' readiness to thrive in their futures." Together with the work of this organization and the work on the district level, changes can begin.  In order to lead the local changes though, it requires leaders who are skilled at building community.

Leading the Building of Community
Most of us have never studied community, nor community building. It is just another assumption that educational leaders are skilled at doing this. Ironically, we must build communities around the core of addressing each child's uniqueness. It is a paradox of our work.

Leadership for community requires authority, a form of power that is freely granted to the leader by his or her followers. Authority is granted to people who are perceived as authentic, as authoring their own words and actions rather than proceeding according to some organizational script. So the authority to lead toward community can emerge from anyone in an organization--and it may be more likely to emerge from people who do not hold positional power. (Parker Palmer)

It may seem a leap from the common core, graduation rates, and NAEP scores to the building of community and the words of Parker Palmer. But in truth, it is not. As in all industries, there are standards that set targets... they may be fair or not. The measures of progress may be fair or not. But as long as we remain in the education industry there are other choices to be made. A most important one is a choice to lead a community of teachers, students, parents, and partners who value and trust each other. If the objections to the demands for a raising graduation rates or NAEP scores don't do anything to improve the quality of student achievement, invite it to be the fulcrum from which a new kind of community can begin to unfold. Objection to the demands is only the beginning. It is the environment in each school that plays the most powerful role.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Ann Myers has been trained by Parker Palmer and leads Circles of Trust® around the country.               

Zhao, Yong (2012). World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin       

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

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