I recently celebrated my 32nd birthday. This number is something we give great importance. On that day, June 10th at 5 something in the morning I was born some number of inches and pounds that was written down to be remembered. I was given a social security number and, thankfully, a name to go with all of this data. From birth we are described and tracked numerically and this really hit’s its stride when we start school. Classes placements and percentiles start to hover over our identity as a student. When I moved to Texas I got tested and my numbers decided I had higher potential so I was in GT programs. In 7th grade I took the SAT with a program to track our numerical development into high school. I took TASS tests, AP tests, College placement tests, class based tests. I was given report cards and credits and more numbers to drag around. I took a military skills tests and was given numbers on my ability to perform in the armed forces. I eventually took college tests and certification tests and the LSAT for law school etc. etc. etc. All of these numbers for my potential. Sometimes for my protection my name isn’t included on the tests; I get a new number instead.
I’ve been pretty lucky, my numbers have been fairly good. When I put my resume down or my applications in, I might even include one or two of them. Maybe a GPA or ranking will grace that page, but in the real world that’s not what will place me in my next job. Ill list schools, previous employers, special life experiences, names of people to recommend me, who will likely not give or even know my numbers. So what happened? All of my numerical potential that has been so important for the first quarter of my life slipped away when I closed my text books. My bosses wont care if I got a 28 or a 12 on my ACT, my LSAT, 92nd or 9th percentile, is irrelevant to them. I worked so hard for those numbers. The state made sure of it, they still have all of them.
There seems to be a discrepancy between our system of education and the values we hold in the “real world.” We have a problem where the government is held responsible for these numbers, so feels the need to track them and base much of our public education system on them. But who decided what to track? That’s right, the very same governmental systems. It’s easier after all. A spreadsheet is much more concise that a book of short stories about our children’s education. Less subjective, fun to graph. I personally love a good excel pivot table. And never mind by the way that research shows that I had an advantage taking these tests written by white, well off, American males because I am one myself. Those numbers are on wholly separate spreadsheets. Just give me my figures so I can pass them on to those I work with after I’m out of the education system. But it’s not what I give to those I work with and for. It’s not what I talk about in an interview. It’s not what matters.
Testing is fraught with it’s bias, over reliance on traceable statistics, teaching to the test rather than student. But possibly more important is that it is almost entirely self-referential. I have numbers, but I am not a number. I didn’t marry my wife for her test scores. I don’t miss my son’s vital statistics when I’m out of town for a few days. So I propose we let our students have stories not statistics. Experiences, not percentiles. Let’s alter how we track our developmental milestones and ability based on a comprehensive individualized child-based responsive system reliant on conversations, meetings, interviews, and maybe a few numbers here and there to accent the dialogue. It’s what we hold important in the real world, it should be what we hold our kids to in their education. In truth its not even all that difficult. There are school systems out there that do this and have students that thrive. I bet you can even find some statistics on it.