Why Are Only Things High-Stakes?

high stakes testing

Nowadays we can’t open an educational magazine, journal or publication without coming across some mention of the term high-stakes testing. A quick Google search of the term high-stakes testing turns up approximately 5,540,000 results. The Cambridge Online Dictionary provides the following definition:

high-stakesused to describe a situation that has a lot of risk and in which someone is likely to either get or lose an advantage, a lot of money, etc.

And yet rarely, if ever, do we refer to the development of our children as high-stakes. Why is this? It is not because we don’t take their education seriously. We do. And, it is not because we aren’t taking their development seriously. We are.

I contend that we have become so obsessed with testing and accountability that we have lost track of what is most important. Children today spend exponentially more time being assessed than ever before. It seems as if we are more concerned with knowing if a child knows how to add fractions than knowing if a child is happy and well-adjusted.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against assessments and I don’t think that we ignore children’s emotional needs. I simply think we need to tip the balance a bit more. I believe as a country we over assess and under nurture.  If we want to produce whole children then we need to start spending more time treating the whole child.

wizard of oz

I am worried if we keep traveling down our current path we are going to continue to create children that resemble the cast of The Wizard of Oz, before they reached their full potential.  We do not want our students thinking to themselves “If I only had… 

Each of our students has everything they need right inside them. It is our job to help them find it.  If the road to their full potential has too many detours or is littered with too many obstacles, they will never reach their destination.

Maybe I am over reacting. Maybe I need to read the definition of high stakes one more time. But upon careful reflection, I believe I have fully understood what high-stakes means. I believe when dissected carefully, the term better applies to children’s development than it does to testing.

Let’s go back to the definition of high stakes that was presented earlier.

high-stakesused to describe a situation that has a lot of risk and in which someone is likely to either get or lose an advantage, a lot of money, etc.

To begin with, there are few things in life that are riskier than the proper education and nurturing of a child. Many studies have been conducted that have shown the incredible impact that an amazing teacher or school can have on a child.

On the other hand, studies have also shown that having a bad teacher just one year can set a child back far enough that they can not ever recover from the loss incurred. There is much riding on the quality of a child’s schooling. Advantages can be gained or lost as early as pre-Kindergarten.

Finally, it is impossible to assign a monetary value on the quality of a child’s education. The potential is limitless. But, it is possible to determine the value of a poor education. That would be zero.

This piece is not meant to point fingers at anyone. It is simply meant to get us to take a step back and think about the terms we use and the way we speak. Testing and assessing are important. And, they can often be high-stakes. But I contend that nothing is more high-stakes than the development of our country’s greatest natural resource. Our children.

To read about a leader who truly gets this, please read the piece, “Focus Matters: A Lesson From Star Wars” http://t.co/7GgWx2b2bP  by Joy Wright, a cherished member of my PLN who definitely knows what is high-stakes.


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