Thursday, April 15, 2010

Excellence vs. Competence

"Test scores don't measure excellence, they measure competence. I didn't send my kids to school to learn competence." John Young, as told to Gary Cartwright.

These are the cleanest, truest two sentences on standardized testing I've come across yet.

Read this commentary for more clear-thinking on education reform from John Young. It hinges on a compelling metaphor: would you blame the mechanic for struggling to repair a neglected car, whose owner never changed the oil or checked the oil pressure? No, you would not. It makes as much sense to blame the teacher for struggling (though still in there, trying, every day) to educate the children whose home lives are marked by the corollary of human neglect. John Young is a recently retired columnist for the Waco Tribune Herald. Lucky for us, he's still keeping an eye on education politics and writing about it.

Another gem from Young's article: "No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals."



  1. Those two sentences are brilliant. Thank you for sharing this.

    In addition to lives marked by neglect are so many students whose families are unable (for financial, emotional, intellectual reasons) to give the children what they need. Many parents have the best of intentions and are trying, against all odds, to do what is necessary but are unable to for reasons beyond their control. It is tragic.

  2. Heh, I'm not even convinced that testing measures competence. It might measure the ability to study or take tests, but those are skills that are really only useful in academia.

    I just want to know that kids are learning what I'm trying to teach. With preschoolers it's pretty easy to assess without resorting to tests. My daughter's in middle school. Her math teacher gives tests and grades them, but if the child asks for help, then corrects her mistakes, she gets full credit for the answer. I love the way this teacher uses her tests, because she is clearly using them as a way to find out if her students are learning what she's trying to teach.

  3. Well said, Jenny. I'm so glad you made that point. The vast majority of parents ARE doing their best, and many make heroic efforts against tremendous odds.

  4. I am with you on this one too! I learn so much about what my students are learning through observation, conversations, and reflecting on their work and activities!

  5. Well said, Deborah. We're nearly constantly assessing--with realistic, useful, in-the-moment assessments.

  6. Thanks, that was a refreshing read.