“Do the hardest thing” is a quote from a novel I once read. It stuck with me.
The quote refers to making choices when faced with multiple options. It’s a beautiful proclamation that we’re each created with certain talents that should be cultivated to the best of our ability.
Potential shouldn’t be shelved when pursuing it seems too hard.
But the hardest thing is different for each individual. And how do we measure success?
My mother used to say, “Don’t measure other people by your own yardstick.” I’m assuming she meant that what’s easy for me might be more difficult for someone else. Achievement looks different for everyone.
I wonder how these philosophies play into standardized testing. Recent news of Minnesota students scoring lower in the math portion of last year’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test was delivered with a dose of reassurance from education officials not to worry. It was expected, we’re told, due to new, tougher standards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to reassure parents who intently peruse published test scores in search of the “best” schools.
“It’s not the whole story,” I tell them.
It’s unfair to compare one school to another when student populations are unique. There are nuances to consider such as sub-groups, adequate yearly progress and increasingly challenging standards.
That’s when people zone out into a blank stare. I don’t blame them. The whole acronym laden endeavor of NCLB, MCA and AYP seems overly complex to even the most attentive parents.
We all want our children to get a good education and are inundated with claims that America lags behind other countries in academic rigor. We’re told science and math are the future and that little Johnny must be adept in these subjects to succeed.
Test scores attempt to measure success. So we default to desiring little Johnny’s school to have the highest test scores thereby ensuring little Johnny the best chance of success.
But success for little Johnny may not be the same as success for little Joey. And possibly neither of them will ever be wunderkinds at math or science.
Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, asks why well-meaning parents tend to lump kids into one of only two camps, gifted or learning disabled. There must be something meaningful in between and when did it become unacceptable to be average?
What if little Johnny’s talent lies within the arts? What if one school’s student population faces more barriers to academic success than another? Testing measures some things. It cannot measure everything.
And yet I am conflicted. I want our district to continue trying to help students do the hardest things.
High-stakes testing standards seem to propel students and educators in the direction of progress. I’m impressed by the dedication of our educators in this district to deliver on those standards.
But children have individual needs, strengths and challenges. And hopefully parents will evaluate their children’s success and the success of our schools on a fuller spectrum than test scores.