Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
September 1, 2001
Vol. 59
No. 1

Voices: The Superintendent / The Race Every Student Must Finish

Check your watch before you begin reading this article and record the time. Keep track of your time as you read and draw a line in the text at the 3-minute mark.

I love track meets. All contestants have an event that they can enter on the basis of their skills: jumping, running, hurdling, throwing, vaulting. You can be any gender, ethnicity, or intelligence level to enter. You can be on a team or you can compete individually.
Each contestant starts with a clear understanding of the rules and goals: What is the event? What does the event require me to do? How is the event measured? What skills will I need to demonstrate to succeed in the event? How will I know which skills I must improve to enhance my performance in the event?
Contestants can practice for each event as much as they want. These practices are not counted against the contestants. Coaches identify the skills that the contestants need to improve and prepare a plan to help the contestants improve those skills. Parents help with the plan, and booster clubs provide assistance for those who cannot afford outside help on skill development or the proper equipment.
The race isn't stopped at a certain time. All times are considered. Everyone who is able finishes. All the successful vaults, throws, and jumps are measured, and each contestant receives multiple chances to demonstrate his or her best performance.

The 130-Meter Race

Public education should be like a track event—a simple 130-meter race—10 meters for each grade level, K–12. The rules and goals should be clear: What should a varsity math student be able to do? What should a varsity English student be able to do? How should we measure success? Should we test using a timer? Is it more important to make sure the contestants can demonstrate the skills or to see how fast they can demonstrate those skills?
We don't stop the 100-meter dash at 11 seconds and tell everyone to freeze so we can see how the contestants compare with one another. We do time state testing, though. We stop the race, thus preventing students who are slow readers from demonstrating their true abilities. Everyone should be allowed to finish an assessment so that we can analyze the total effort. Then, like the track team's coaches, parents, and boosters, we can prescribe instruction to improve performance.
I hope the surgeon who operates on me is not being timed. Imagine this scenario:Doctor, you have two hours to complete this open-heart surgery. During this time you must demonstrate on a live person everything you know about open-heart surgery to save his life. At the conclusion of two hours, you will be asked to stop immediately, put down your equipment, and leave the operating room.

Nothing But 100 Percent

I like the safety assessment that students at my school must take before they can use equipment in technical education classes. Each student knows exactly what is expected on the test. The test isn't timed, and for safety purposes, each student must pass by 100 percent. If we allowed 85 percent to be acceptable, students could lose a finger or two while operating the band saw.
State testing allows students to score at a basic level to succeed. We pass students who perform at minimum state levels to the next grade, thus widening the gaps between students. You can't see the missing "fingers" in the brain, but how many skill deficits should we permit?
Students must succeed in the public school race. We must know what the goal is and share it with everyone. We must then make sure that 100 percent of our students finish the race, using appropriate assessments aimed at helping improve performances along the way.

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Discover ASCD's Professional Learning Services
From our issue
Product cover image 101271.jpg
Making Standards Work
Go To Publication