Thursday, June 4, 2015

Comparison to the Standard

            Recently I saw my doctor to check my cholesterol level.  This is something that I don’t worry about enough and (hence) know little about.  As my doctor went through the various numbers for my LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and glucose I became very confused because I didn’t know which numbers were “good” and which were “bad”.  I asked him, “Is 90 high?”  His response was intended to be helpful but instead I found it to be completely useless.  He said, “It’s better then most men your age.”

            Now I realize that we live in America and competition is at the heart of many of our activities, but everything in life is not a competition.  Why should I care if my cholesterol is better than “most men my age”?  I’m not going to win a prize for having better cholesterol than the next guy.  I happen to know that two-thirds of Americans are overweight.  What would it matter if my doctor said that my weight was better than “most men my age”?  I was hoping my doctor would give me a range of numbers that some team of professional cholesterol doctors had determined was reasonable.  I was hoping that my doctor would tell me the standard for cholesterol.

            We do the same thing in our schools.  We want (for instance) all students to be proficient in reading and mathematics.  But the only thing that many educators seem to care about is whether or not we are doing better than school X or district Y.  I think it makes people feel good to be able to say that they are better than some other school down the road.  But the truth is, the only comparison that matters is the comparison to the standard. 

If (for instance) we want all students to read on grade level by third grade, than that is the only comparison that should be made.  For example, let’s say that last year 63% of the 3rd graders in our school read on grade level and this year 69% of our 3rd graders read on grade level.  We are approaching the standard.  That’s it.  We could say we are succeeding in approaching our standard or we could say we have not succeeded because we have not yet reached our standard.  But there is no good reason to compare our results with other schools as a measure of our school’s success.

When we allow a school to compare its students’ proficiency rate with that of another school, we create an illusion of progress and a false sense of pride.  

You can always find some school somewhere that is doing worse than your school.  But that may only mean that your school sucks less than that other school.  Student achievement isn’t a soccer game.  We don’t “win” just because we got a higher “score” than someone else.  If there is any winning at all, it comes when education professionals set high standards and students meet (or approach) those standards.  That is the only comparison that matters. 

As for me, I need to start eating less and exercising more.  If there is a standard for cholesterol, I really, really want to reach it!

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