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Google has its eyes on more than good #grades

February 23, 2014

Today Thomas Friedman wrote at article in the New York Times, How to Get a Job at Google?  In my professional network it was the “article of the day.”  There must have been at least 10-15 references to it by 5:00 pm.  Why is that?  Is it because so many people love to read Thomas Friedman’s column?  Is it because his title was catchy and relevant to today’s anxiety?  I imagine many people love reading Thomas Friedman.  I do.  In reference to my second question, I Googled, what does it take to get a job at Google, and came up with 20+ articles in the first two pages that were relevant to this question.  Many were reputable entries and even an infographic (click here for the infographic).  I don’t mean to criticize Friedman, but his article does not appear to focus on a very original question; however, it is a fascinating one.

In one of my networks, this was the response from someone who read the article, was replying to a conversation, and is well placed in a school’s hierarchy.

I love the articles you send, Thomas (not the real name)!  Quite thought-provoking. I think Sally (another substitute) is on to something here too. One of the challenges with education at ____ schools is that true innovation and creative thinking is often not encouraged because of the high penalty (bad grades) for making mistakes. The creative process, however, is one of making many missteps and adapting – the kind of skills Google is looking for as well. Many of our best students, though, are afraid to take intellectual risks in the majority of their classes because the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t pay off.

If we assume this person’s perspective is right on, and many of us would, then my question is who contributes to this mindset?  I think schools do, I think teachers do, I think parents do and I think students do.  Certainly, our culture does as well.  Now on the same day I happen to read the following article, Drummond parents en masse opting out.  This article appeared on the website, Substance News, which is devoted to defending public school education.  Thirty-four parents submitted an open letter to the school community saying that they were going to “opt out” of their children taking the ISAT tests at Drummond Elementary School.

The ISAT, which Substance is now referring to as the “Zombie Test” because it is dead but still walking around, is scheduled to begin on March 2 in all elementary schools, and many teachers have been using obsolete “ISAT Prep” materials with children as young as seven and eight for weeks instead of real instruction.

Parents write in their letter to the community:

We would rather have our kids engaged in Montessori schoolwork, artwork, independent projects or quiet reading, instead of ‘bubbling’ on a test that that doesn’t count for anything.

Here are parents who are not going to just stand by while their children’s creativity and education is at risk from poorly designed tests that do not effectively measure what a child has learned. This is what Friedman writes in his NY Times piece:

G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.

Those quoted and Friedman point out that these indicators are not worthless, but that they just don’t have the power we subscribe to them.  (read this for a different perspective).

I want to know when will schools follow suit and also have the courage to stand up and take some risks like these Drummond parents.  Too often schools just foster the status quo, buying in to every test, high-stakes and low-stakes.  Teachers test, quiz, test some more and quiz a lot more.  Are these types of assessment policies really helping our students learn and understand important content, skills and abilities that will serve them well into the future?  I think we know the answer to that question.

Now if you have time, check out Grant Wiggins post on what assessments really measure.

A question he discusses: Given that results on tests of cognition predict achievement, might it work in the other direction? In other words, do results on achievement tests predict cognitive abilities?

An answer he finds in research: And so: what did the researchers find? Oops. Better achievement on state standardized tests yields little or no gain on these cognitive skills:

My takeaway: If we want students to be innovators we have to set up two conditions: (1) we have to challenge the status quo (Drummond Parents); and (2) we have to take some risks.  It means that traditional grading and ways of assessing student learning are not effective practices to give students the confidence, feedback, and pathways to deeper understanding and lifelong learning.  It certainly won’t be their ticket to getting a job at Google or maybe any job worth having.  They will need to think critically and creatively, solve complex problems, arrive at decisions collectively, work effectively on teams, be discerning in using information, and communicate their knowledge, skills, and abilities in interesting ways.

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