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Why is assessment an assay, looking as a geologist would to see only if a rock does or does not contain, say, copper? Why isn’t it instead an analysis looking to identify every element present?
Are we obliged to see achievement as a competition among groups? I went with the American delegation to Finland last August. For the Finns, a gap exists where the individual student is not performing to his or her potential — in language, science, the arts, whatever.
If gaps can be closed in elementary school, what about high school? Does the economy require all young people to be college-ready? (Check Paul Barton’s reports on the Educational Testing Service website.) What does business actually value at the point of hire? Is the gap in basic proficiency all that matters, or should we be concerned equally about the gap in high performance, as Scott Miller argued in “An American Imperative?”
So where does all this leave us?
With its one-dimensional notion of achievement and its advocacy of one model of school to produce “high performance,” hasn’t conventional “education reform” painted itself into a corner — raising expectations that it might not be able to meet?
Isn’t the way out to recognize that all young people can learn better and need to learn better, but that different students will do well at different things, so that we should value many different “achievements”?
Please, is it OK to discuss these questions?
Ted Kolderie works on public-service redesign, and on the redesign of K-12 education, with the Center for Policy Studies. He has been a reporter and editorial writer with the Star Tribune, executive director of the Citizens League and a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.