What Are You Trying To Measure?

I recently read an article written by a poet who struggled to answer questions on a Texas standardized test. As the author, one would think that she would be able to analyze and answer questions about poems she wrote. I found this article to be amusing, sad, and full of common sense wisdom. I read this article two days before the state of Texas released a model of district and campus A-F ratings to meet the legislative requirement of HB 2804.

Even in the midst of standardization and scrutiny of public education, which comes mostly from those who have never set foot in public schools, educators around the world are working hard to create memorable learning experiences that cannot be standardized or measured on a test.

A student at my school drew this picture from a photograph that was given to her by one of her teachers. The artistic talent that is displayed in this drawing blew my mind! How can this be the work of a 14-year-old self-taught artist?


When I saw this student during the passing period the next day, I complimented her artistic ability and workmanship. I also asked her what her fee would be for drawing a portrait of my children. At the conclusion of our conversation, I shared an idea with her that I had about creating a piece of art to remember our dear counselor who passed away in the fall. I already had a meeting scheduled with Andrew, the artist I use often, but I felt that having a student create the piece would be more meaningful. This student has proven to be a serious artist, and I know that she is more than capable of doing an exceptional job.

During my meeting with Andrew, I showed him the picture above and he was amazed. I went on to inform him that I had just reassigned a job I had slated for him to complete to my student artist. We continued our meeting, which led to us walking the building to look at some areas we had in mind for some upcoming projects. During our walk, we ran into the student artist we had discussed earlier. The conversation that transpired between the two artists was AMAZING! A student with a dream talking to a person who is living his dream of making a living sharing his passion and talent is what school should be about. This is learning. Schooling in the 21st century is about the possibilities and the realization of dreams, not how quickly content and strategies can be regurgitated to pass a test.

At the conclusion of the conversation, my student artist said that having the opportunity to talk to an artist who uses his talent to make a living was an answer to her prayers. She shared with us that she had been talking to her mother about what a future career would look like as an artist. I told her that with a little guidance and support, she could be a 14-year-old entrepreneur today! Her eyes popped out of her sockets, and she grinned from ear to ear. Passionate students, with the right influences and relationships, pursue excellence that positively contributes to making the world a better place. I am not sure what learning objective that is, but that is what I want my personal children to learn after 13 years of public education.

How would you measure the moment this student had? What letter grade can we put on this experience? Which experience would you want to have as a student? Furthermore, which experience do you want your children to have? I don’t know about you, but my school, my children’s school, my district, and my neighborhood are so much more than a letter grade. My children and the children I serve each day are greater than what a standardized test can measure, and the professionals who chose our worthy profession deserve more than a letter to measure their effectiveness, commitment, and dedication.

At the time when we need to be helping students find their passion and talents so they are equipped to tackle the complex problems of the 21st century, and are prepared for jobs that do not yet exist, we are using the most simplistic form of measurement to determine if they are ready. For those who need to measure the effectiveness of public schools, I would encourage you to choose your metrics wisely. Be sure your metrics can easily be explained, replicated, and not manipulated. As for me, I will take my chance on passion, creativity, personal stories, and connection over a letter grade any day.


Add Yours
  1. Rhonda Henderson

    Thank you Sanee! As I talked to parents and staff yesterday, the sentiments expressed were the ones you just so beautifully expressed. I appreciate your courage and inspiration.


    • saneebell

      Thanks, Rhonda! We have to use our voice as leaders to advocate for the work that we do in public schools. Our work cannot be reduced to a single letter. Keep up the good fight!


  2. Elaine

    Wow…thank you, Sanee, for writing such an eloquent piece! Awesome! As a classroom teacher, I do indeed spend much of my time teaching students how to be successful on test after test. We are told not to teach to a test. However, as teachers, we live under the scrutiny of our test scores…the “data”. This is how we are defined. This is how we are “graded”. We gain a stellar professional reputation if our scores are high. If our student scores are low, our teaching skills are questioned. No one ever dares to ask if we should take a different approach to teaching and assessing skills. Even if teachers are given the o.k. to do things differently, there is a warning. “MAKE SURE YOU MAINTAIN YOUR TEST SCORES”. Thank you for being bold enough to express opinions that many dare not speak. As a leader, you certainly lead with passion and conviction. You are the leader that any teacher would love to follow!

    May God continue to bless you, cover you, and guide your footsteps.


  3. Melanie Beisert

    I read the same poet’s article, and I felt a huge sense of, “I’ve always wondered about those types of questions.” I love your take on it as well as your insight into education in our schools. I’m so excited for your budding artist. Be sure to share her artwork when complete. Several years ago a friend, mentor, and colleague passed away unexpectedly. A mutual student of ours sketched a picture of Mrs. Chapman and I display it in my room yearly. It is a treasured piece and leads to meaningful conversations in class every year.


  4. Betsy Irwin

    I really enjoyed your article and am also honored to have this talented student as one of the most amazing, self starting, responsible ( I could go on!) student aide that I have known for many years. I am so glad to hear that she has met with a fellow artist. Those are the types of “background experiences” that will be the most advantageous.


Leave a Reply to saneebell Cancel reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s