What Tests Don’t Measure

One of my goals this summer is to study for and take the GRE. Although I have taken hundreds of tests in my life, this one costs $195 and the possibility of entrance into graduate school. So I’m taking it fairly seriously.

However, I recently came across this wonderful reminder about what tests don’t measure:

courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/15/headteacher-note-pupils-viral-lancashire-primary-school-barrowford-nelson

photo courtesy of The Guardian / Twitter

The letter–from principal Rachel Tomlinson of Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire, England–accompanied students test scores to encourage them that this test does not define their worth as individuals.

My favorite part is the farewell line: “So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”

In the United States, we have become increasingly reliant on standardized tests to measure student performance. While our lawmakers worry about competing with scores in countries on the other side of the world, our students are left constrained by a system suffering from cuts to the performing arts and creative educational opportunities.

The reminder that “there are many ways of being smart” should encourage us to think about what those ways are, and whether students are actually being given the opportunity to explore them.

I am incredibly grateful for every teacher I had that encouraged me to think outside the boxes of a, b, c, or d. From my dance teachers who taught me the importance of self-confidence, soccer coaches who encouraged me to try even when I was un-athletic, my high school US History teacher that taught us the history behind rock songs, my high school senior english teacher that made it a project to chronicle our experience in a creative scrapbook, and my college professors who took us to plays and poetry readings to learn through experiences–thank you. You still gave me tests and grades, but you also gave me so much more.

This is a lesson we all have to learn once we leave the confines of school and testing. We need to be reminded of our beautiful complexities that make us so much more than any kind of score. It also wouldn’t hurt if we started teaching kids this while they are still in the educational system. Otherwise they will be like myself and many other post-grads who don’t remember their worth when they no longer have a grade to tell it to them.

Yes, the GRE is an important test and I do need to study for it. No, it does not define who I am. Tests show one way of being smart, but my abilities to avoid Chicago potholes while driving, cook over a campfire, hike across mountains, and engage with other people prove that I am more than a test score. That is true for you too.

What defines you outside of test scores?
How do you think our educational system can improve to teach kids how to be smart in areas other than testing?

Days of Rest: A Window Into Post-Grad Life

For 16 years my life has been structured around a school calendar. Now I am free floating, unrestrained and undefined.

I moved to a new city (free rent thanks to my gracious brother and sister-in-law), don’t have a job (by choice), and have no clue where I will be three months from now (I have ideas, just no evidence to justify decisions yet). The typical question I’ve gotten for months now is “What’s next?”

If I’m not hangry or tired I will reply with a polite explanation of the many random tasks on my plate right now (part time publicity work for an author, studying for the GRE, reading copiously, planning a trip to Sweden in September, questioning my life plans). But if I am in a rush or don’t feel like blubbering to a stranger I often reply “I’m not doing too much, just trying to relax while I can.”

Although this definitely doesn’t incorporate everything, it is a simplified truth that I return to. Rest is NOT something I was taught how to do in my lifetime of schooling. So now I’m trying to embrace the somewhat lazy-river of post-grad life, even when I’m splashing around in a panic thinking I’m drowning in that river. To be clear, I’m not drowning. I just don’t know how to relax well or what it means to not be a student anymore.

When I first started this blog a couple years ago, I spent a long time thinking about what its focus would be. Thanks to my indecisive nature I decided on a more general vision: the elements of life that define us, and what it means to step outside of those boundaries. It developed from a soap box I’ve carried for a long time–the injustice we all experience when we are put into boxes that don’t accurately define who we are.

For 13 years I defined myself as a dancer, and when that definition was no longer an option I floated in an ocean of identity that ebbed and flowed in stormy seas until I finally found a shore to land on. I then found myself outraged at how our culture had defined other things like men, women, love, Christians, and success. I am still working on redefining those things for myself outside the boundaries of cultural norms.

Now that I have graduated from college–the culmination of 16 years defined as a student within the boundaries of public and private educational systems, school calendars, and grade point averages–I must again redefine a significant part of my life.

It was Socrates, one of the first educators, who said that “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” My opinions on the educational system are better left for a separate post, but for now I will say that I am incredibly grateful for the teachers who kindled the love of learning in me. However, despite their hard work, I don’t doubt I was simultaneously filling my vessel of self-worth with my status as a student.

I will always be a student, but the last two months have reminded me what it means to learn outside of classrooms and libraries. Learning is one of our greatest privileges; it is a freedom that can only be lost through individual apathy. As Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, and countless others have shown us–learning is something we must chase after, redefine in whatever way works for our situation, and embrace whole-heartedly in order to truly succeed.

As I float through this uncharted territory I must constantly remind myself that my identity is NOT as a student chasing the grade, but instead as a student chasing the world where grades don’t matter and learning is the fire that sustains my life. This is the time to throw out the vessel altogether, if only to prevent myself from filling it up with a worthless job of climbing ladders. Vessels fill up eventually and reach a point of satisfaction, but a fire must be kindled and fed daily so that we are always learning. The point of life is not to reach a filling point, but to sustain the deeper fire which fuels a life beyond the boundaries of ordinary living.

I am now a student without a syllabus in a classroom without constraints. Although it can be scary at times, I’m trying to focus on the horizon, lighting my fire to get me through the darker nights. God’s mercies are new every morning, and hope arrives when I remember I’ve hopped the fence into a brand new world to explore. At that point I kick back and embrace wherever the river takes me.

Overlooking Albuquerque from the top of the Sandias Mountains

Overlooking Albuquerque from the top of the Sandias Mountains


What did you learn when you stopped having to go to school?

How has your identity as a learner been formed?