Alexia Jensen: Are we using the best measurement for student success?

We teach our children how to be test-takers, rather than focus on building and honing skills.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Westlake graduates take in a compilation of videos on the large screen at Rio Tinto Stadium taken throughout their year of living with though the coronavirus pandemic as they celebrate commencement ceremonies on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Over the years our education system has seen many changes. With federal legislation such as No Child Left Behind and then, in 2018, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we have seen an increased emphasis on testing to measure success.

These standardized tests are used to allocate funding, and more importantly, create a standard of accountability in our schools. Acts such as these have helped create a measure by which we can assess progress in our students.

But I must ask, are we assessing the right markers? In our efforts to create a measurable system by which we can assess educational success, have we inadvertently done a disservice to our students and ultimately our communities by placing undue emphasis the testing results themselves? What is the ultimate purpose in education?

Historically speaking, as public education for children became mandatory, society saw a decrease in crime and poverty. Education was and still is the means of preparing our youth to become participating and contributing members of the community. Ideally, school provides a safe space where we learn how to interact with other members of society, learn the process of critical thinking, how to look at information and assimilate it into working practice.

Yet, in many respects, something has been lost in translation. Because programs such as the above mentioned have been put into place, statistics show lower dropout rates and higher literacy rates, but we are seeing a decrease in college graduates finding gainful employment, and jobs are going unfulfilled despite availability. We are doing a great job in getting the scores in, and keeping the students in their seats, but are we really preparing them for what comes after high school?

I find myself wondering if we are putting emphasis on the wrong kinds of programs and tests. I am not saying that we should abandon our focus on making sure that our students are literate in reading, writing and arithmetic. Consider what would happen if we started focusing on aptitude assessments, such as YouScience Discovery, from an American Fork-based company, in conjunction with standardized grading system we currently use.

In our current system, results, in this case a student’s grades, are the ultimate measurement of what a child is capable of. We teach our children how to be test-takers, rather than focus on the process of building and honing skills. We stress the need to attend college without consideration as to experience, and specific skills that employers are looking for. In a report by NBC regarding why college students struggle to find work, Jay Denton, chief analyst at Dallas based ThinkWhy, stated, “Right now there are about 9.2 million jobs open in the country and unfortunately there’s just a mismatch.” The mismatch is both skill and experience related.

I work as the career center coordinator for a local high school in Cache Valley, and as we have implemented the YouScience assessment, also known as the student credential account, we have seen how assessing aptitudes can shape the education experience into something more productive. As students have gained an understanding of where their natural talents and abilities lie, they have taken opportunity to explore areas of study that inspire growth and interest in real skills that prepare them for what comes next.

The aptitude assessments that have been administered have become the foundation for our career and college program. Students who formally believed that they were incapable of doing a particular type of career are now excited to explore areas that they previously thought were closed to them. Several of our high school seniors who previously were unsure of their future now have direction as to what their next step is. For some, it is a trade school where they can learn the skills to make them marketable. For others, it is college where they will continue to hone their understanding of their area of interest.

It is time that we start looking at how we better help our students succeed in life. Education should no longer be about getting the right answers. I believe that programs like YouScience have the potential to change our educational system.

If we can help our students more fully understand where their natural abilities lie, and then teach them how to leverage that understanding while they are in high school, I feel we will see less welfare, stronger communities, and more capable graduates.

Alexia Jensen

Alexia Jensen is career center coordinator at Mountain Crest High School, Cache Valley.