Assessments are performed at the beginning of each school year. Teachers use them to determine what children remember after a long summer, which skills are strong and where additional support might be needed. Most of the assessments are measured against the “norm,” or the average student of that grade or age. When the results are favorable, the student is deemed to be on the right path; when they are less than optimal, it is determined what skills are lacking and what help is needed to reach that benchmark or average. Though this information may be useful in determining an instructional path for the development of specific skills, it cannot serve as the guiding force for learning.
As educators, we strive to help children find their unique gifts and build on them, creating their own learning. Does measuring students against the average in academic areas serve this goal? In reading this blog post, I was once again inspired by Yong Zhao, who focuses his research on the implications of globalization and technology on education. Zhao is specifically concerned that, by focusing on closing the achievement gap by reaching average or standard performance, schools may “narrow the variability” of thought and curiosity that is needed for children to ultimately become creative problem-solvers. Instead, he suggests that schools need to embrace differences in learning styles and individual learning outcomes, and focus on acquiring the skills needed to support students as they move from school to future work environments.
As another school year gets underway, our commitment must be to find ways to encourage children to be their personal best. The definition of success is much more than what can be defined by standardized assessments and curricula. Success is personal and continually changing. Children need to be surrounded by educators who believe in them and help them define and refine their goals while also illuminating the steps needed to reach those outcomes. It is only through these steps that schools can serve the students and their future learning goals.