Unmeasured Success: What Standardized Testing Doesn’t Assess

This year, I’ve been working with my school staff to implement strategies that will raise student achievement and be reflected on MCAS, our state standardized assessment.  The staff have been working diligently to support student learning, and I am confident that we’ll see increased scores as one measure of our success.

We’ve also spent the past year revisiting our school mission and vision.  After working on a draft vision statement and letting it “rest” for a period of time, we’ve begun to revisit it and we’re now starting to craft a vision statement that really reflects what we’d like our school to become and to be known for in the community.  The discussion around this has been rich in nature, with staff wanting to make sure that our vision was reflective of our work with students.  At our most recent staff meeting, staff talked about educating “whole children”, making sure that children were not only well developed academically, but also socially-emotionally as well.

Recently, after two meetings at Central Office, I came back to school feeling badly because my meetings ran over and I had to postpone lunch with most, if not all, of our most recent WHOO Card drawees.  Our school recognizes children for meeting expected school wide behaviors and every other week, we draw names and students from each grade level get to bring a friend to lunch with my assistant principal and me.


It turned out that a couple of grade levels learned that my assistant principal and I got back to school and sent down some students for lunch.  While my lunches with students are always extremely rewarding, I had no idea about the lunch which I would have the good fortune to be part of on this Friday.  We were in the assistant principal’s office when a fourth grade student who is relatively new to our school came in with her lunch invitee.  It turned out that the friend she invited was one of the students that participates in the ILP (Intensive Learning Program) at our school.  The program is a district wide program for students on the Autism spectrum, and serves a range of students in regards to their level of disability and level of communication.  Fiske has housed the program for a number of years and students and staff are well acquainted with the needs of students with Autism and embrace them as learners in our school.

The student that came along as a guest is a student that uses an alternative augmentative communication device to communicate with peers and adults.  He and his aide came in to the office and he had his lunch with him, and the girl that invited him interacted as if the student had no disability.  It was one of the most touching acts I have seen since my tenure at Fiske and it made me realize just how much we teach students that is beyond the scope of standardized testing.  That being said, I am not against such testing, however, it made me think about the moral imperative we have as educators, and as my staff discussed at our meeting, our responsibility to educate “whole children”.

Our collective responsibility is to not only help students master content in reading, math and writing, but to master the “content” of being a good citizen, being empathetic, and treating others with kindness.  It is helping them find the good in others and respecting the fact that everyone learns differently and that we all contribute, in some way. to our community. Students need to learn the importance of caring for one another, being good listeners and working with others.

These are just a FEW of the many important skills that we work to teach our children and the reality is, NCLB and standardized testing measure none of these skills or traits.  Aren’t we not only accountable to for academics, but for social skills as well?  Do we want to raise children that are successful readers, writers and the such, yet they can not show empathy towards others?

As I watched my two lunch guests interact with one another and as I interacted with them, I realized that my school is successful.  We do meet the standards, and probably exceed the standards, based on my observation of children helping create an inclusive environment where everyone is valued.  It is this success that will not be measured on standardized testing, but will be measured as our students leave our school and become members of the local and global communities in which they live and work.


  1. I appreciate that you took the time to show how one school is looking for ways to build an inclusive, holistic environment that supports both academic and social-emotional success. Teaching well is challenging work that begins with the vision and goals related to teaching all children well, and the more that educators, both leaders and teachers, promote that notion with time and effort, the more successful children will be in school and out. Thank you.

    March 24, 2014
  2. Jack M. said:

    Great writeup–love the focus on SEL success beyond the standardized test. Biggest question is how can this, like testing, be measured?

    I know that new offerings like Panorama Education (http://panoramaed.com) are working to offer data analytics on to answer these sorts of questions–curious whether you think kindness, citizenship, and others you mention can have metrics attached?

    March 24, 2014
    • Art Costa said:

      There are many ways to assess (not measure) acquisition of these learnings. Not using standardized tests.

      To find out more about ways, please examine my book, Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning. (2014) Corwin Press.

      April 21, 2014
  3. Irene Hannigan said:

    Although I am now a retired principal (two years ago) your entry resonated with me. I always managed to have a Friday lunch with students at my school once a week and it was the highlight of my week. I met with four students at each grade level – one from each of our classes. It was a great way for me to continue to stay grounded in the developmental needs of children. I gained a great perspective on many issues that came up during the course of our informal give-and-take and it was just plain fun! Needless to say, I think it also helped children to feel invested in the school and in their learning.

    March 24, 2014
  4. This blog caught my attention and made my day. Technical skills are much easier to teach than people skills.
    As an etiquette expert I feel like the lone ranger, a “be kind” monitor, as I observe children in both learning and social environments. There is a huge lack of social skills training that is beyond character education. I totally support the whole child concept and work very hard to reinstate civility and etiquette standards!

    March 25, 2014

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