The Intellectual Bank Account: How to Invest in Students’ Minds (8-22-14)

The allure of the Pro-Standardized Testing Narrative is that on the surface, it seems to make sense. If you want to improve something, you measure it, work to make it better, and then measure it again to see if you improved. Right?

Well, maybe if you are working with inanimate objects or factory-like processes. But not when you are working with people. If you want a certain result, like smarter students, it’s actually helpful to see why the smart students are smart in the first place.

No really smart person was made smart by standardized testing. Someone might marginally improve his or her test taking skills to prepare for a particular test, but test prep isn’t what makes someone smarter.

What makes a student, or any person smart? I decided to have Mr. Fitz answer the question in a debate with the education reform movement’s ideal teacher, Mrs. Merritt. Their debate takes place in the context of a metaphor: the human mind as a backpack.

If someone tells you they don’t understand what teachers and parents and students have against standardized testing, then send them here. Mr. Fitz will straighten them out… maybe. (He doesn’t seem to get very far with the utterly clueless Mrs. Merritt…)

Of course, as several readers pointed out, many students who have a great Intellectual Bank Account don’t test well. Very true. I couldn’t quite address that point in the context of this series, but it is very, very important to note that many highly intelligent students simply don’t test well, no matter how much and how well parents, teachers, and others have invested in them. 

And I didn’t address one other point: that one of the main goals of education should be to get students… to invest in themselves. 

But here’s the take away. Much like the positive psychology movement, which studies how happy people function in order to make all people happier, we should be figuring out how our more intelligent students function in order to make all students smarter. 

Our best students haven’t become smart by endless testing, but by investments made in them as people. Our lowest students deserve nothing less than being invested in the same way as our highest.