Measuring what Matters 

This week marks the one week each school year that our elementary and middle school learners spend time with a standardized test. They show up to school, sit in front of their computers and try to determine the best answer: A, B, C, or D. For these few hours our studios full of learners look a lot like classrooms full of students. 

Before we begin the testing experience, we spend time considering the purpose of the test and what it does and doesn’t measure. Like so many other mornings, we begin with a story and some questions: 

You are about to go on a solo trip on a sailboat around the world. It will take you 3-4 years to circle the globe. You will be alone on the sailboat with all your provisions. And because vast portions of the ocean are so remote, much of the time you will only have your wits to rely on.

Question 1: How will you prepare yourself for this epic journey?

  • Study and take a test
  • Go out and sail every day in vastly different conditions, taking longer and longer trips until you feel prepared

Question 2: Imagine this… You have a dream to become the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. You have an amazing idea but little business experience. What do you do?

  • Study and take a test
  • Talk to other CEOs and experiment your idea by starting very small and growing

Question 3: Imagine this… You want to write and produce your own Broadway play- it’s going to be the next Hamilton! You know how to write and understand music but you have never written a play before. What should you do next?

  • Study and take a test
  • Write a play, get feedback, and try again

In most of these scenarios of epic adventures, our learners identified that the best way to prepare for the journey is to practice and develop their skills, not take a test. Life is an epic adventure and often, the real test is the journey each of us go on. And yet, in most schools, a standardized test is the only way that learning is measured and success is defined. 

The last question we pose to our learners is the most important and resulted in the most profound responses.

Question 4: And really importantly, what does this test not measure that will help you on your life adventure as you blaze your own trail?

Our learners’ responses included…

“It won’t measure how good of a friend I am.”

“Collaboration and how well I work with others and even how well I work with myself.”

“Basically every character trait that we think is important – like curiosity and compassion.”


“How funny I am.”

“How I’ve grown in public speaking.”

“All of the things we talk about in Health & Wellness.”

We closed our conversation confirming our learner’s ideas – that each of them are so much more than a score on a standardized test, and we reminded ourselves of some of our TVS core beliefs. 

We believe who you are is more important than what you know. We believe that a learner should only ever compare themselves to who they were yesterday – not to the person next to them or to some arbitrary standard. We believe that all young people have a calling that has the power to change the world. We believe that what really matters can’t possibly be measured on a test.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s