Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reclaiming "Student Achievement"

For a long time in education, and particularly in the past ten years, we've seen the bastardization of the word "achievement" and I think it's time that we, as educators, start to take it back.

Ask just about anyone you know, inside or outside of school, what student achievement means and I bet you'd hear something about grades, AYP Results, and/or test scores. Our students, schools, districts, states, nations, and (increasingly) teachers are all being judged by this narrow, blind definition of the word achievement- results on standardized tests. NCLB has taken the meaning of this word and twisted it to simply mean test scores.

Alternatively, ask anyone you know, inside or outside of school, what their achievements are. I bet you'd hear a completely different story. I've tried hard the last couple of weeks to think of any institution or job where the word achievement is defined by test scores. Plumbers? Businessmen? Doctors? Artists? Writers? Journalists? Fry cooks? If you were to ask anyone outside of school what the achievements in their job look like, you'd see descriptions of people doing, creating, publishing, and performing. You know....actually achieving something!

Looking at my own life, what do I list as my achievements? As a classroom teacher, my achievements were measured in the way my kids wanted to come to school, the affirmations of parents that trusted me with their kids, teaching a low ability kid how to read, bringing out student passions.... and on and on. Outside of the classroom, I married waaaaaaaaay up. That was a big achievement for me. Writing a book was a big one, especially since, when I finished my masters, I had announced that I'd never write a long paper again....whoops. We can all list our achievements in life and I bet they'd be as far away from filling in bubbles as humanly possible.

Any realistic, serious look at transforming education has to deeply analyze and reflect on what achievement is. What does it look like? What are we wanting students to achieve? How are achievements recognized? What do they look like? How can we tell if a student has achieved? I don't know the answers to these questions, per se, but I'd love for the national conversation to be centered around trying to figure them out.

The point is- to become better achievers in life, we need to be doing, creating, publishing, and performing. Why aren't we viewing our students with this same lens? Why do we continue to allow the world to view "student achievement" so narrowly? I've said before and will say again- testing does not improve achievement- ACHIEVEMENT improves achievement. In other words, let's start getting our kids to produce some authentic work for an authentic, participatory audience. The more they achieve in school, the more they'll achieve in life outside of school. It's just that simple.

No comments: