The 'Real World' is Not a Cross-Country Race

Hanna Skandera tells us, in a recent Albuquerque Journal guest editorial, what should have been an inspirational and heart-warming story about her glory days in track, when she trained for months for that one big cross-country race at the end.  She came in second.  It’s implied that the rest of them were ranked-and-filed as, I assume, winners and losers?

There are two important differences between cross-country and standardized tests that make Hanna’s remarks fall completely flat of an actual argument.

First, academics and cognitive development are not cross-country.  She trained so hard because she chose to accept the challenge of winning a race.  Our kids are not all like that, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  Learning is not a race; learning is a process.  Learning is not a competition; learning is a quest.

And, most importantly, learning is not what we do just because there’s a really big test at the end.

Second, Hanna stated that kids who are prepared to take a test do just fine. and kids who are not prepared are filled with anxiety and worry.  She's right.  The point she’s trying to make is that kids in New Mexico have been practicing for this big test for months and months.  That, right there, is disturbing enough.  That’s not what school is for.

Also, the fact that our tests this year are not aligned to the standards that have been taught, the fact that teachers and others have no idea what those tests look like, and the fact that there is no way to practice and study for these tests—as Hanna did for her cross-country tournament—makes this argument false and, to be frank, kind of silly.

And, yes, there is very real stress and anxiety in our children, even the very young ones.

There are tests in the real world, to be sure.  Real tests.  Tests of courage, tests of character, tests of judgment, and even the occasional test about a job.  Very few, if any, will resemble a six-to-thirteen-hour computerized or paper-and-pencil test that our kids have to endure during their school years. 

No career path cares what our kids’ state test scores are.  Colleges and universities don’t care either.  If the state tests are the finish line for our kids every year, and if the SAT/ACT is the only important finish line for our graduates, then we have forgotten what education should be.

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Comment by Johnny_Mango on March 10, 2014 at 10:26pm

Her story in the Journal was pretty strange.  She seemed to justify taking all the tests because tests are a fact of life so get used to it.  Every serious statistician in the country will tell you that these tests are normed so that richer kids do better than poorer kids.  If the opposite were true, they would rewrite the tests for being invalid.  By the way, that is why tests contain no Spanish or questions about life living in a shelter.  While it is not impossible for children to break out, family income continues to be the biggest predictor of how well kids do on these tests.  Now that is a fact of life.

Comment by shotsie on March 10, 2014 at 10:53pm

Thanks Kris for writing this - and drawing attention to Hanna's very personal view of educational testing - I swear she writes like a high school junior applying for college - as in, what I learned by placing second in a cross country race and how it applies to life. (Also, her frequent use of commas, and; semi-colons....)

Hanna, to my surprise, came from Santa Rosa, which probably didn't compete with the Albuquerque schools in athletics.  Big fish, small pond.  If she ran against the Albuquerque schools, she wouldn't have placed in the top ten. Where you place is all relative to your competition - the larger schools usually beat up the smaller schools - that's why you have divisions in high school and college sports.  (Hey, maybe we can pit the poor schools against each other, etc... - division by demographic make up, at least it would be more fair.)

You'd think that she might have mentioned that cross country is still a team sport, and her score would be added to the others on her team - nope - " There would be no make-up exam, no grading on a curve and only one student would capture the top prize. The rest of us would be ranked, top-to-bottom, based on this single static score. This particular test was a two-mile, cross country race, and I finished second."  Geez, Hanna - way to appreciate your teammates - losers....

" I would argue our students' academic achievement results deserve just as much priority as our athletic results."  Coming from our education (designate) chief - and former jock and coach - well, it's good to see her priorities changing...

" The truth of the matter is, if a student is on an athletic team that practices for two hours a day, Monday through Friday, that student has participated in more athletic training just two weeks into the season than the amount of state testing they'll do all year."  Earth to Hanna - it's all the prepping for the tests that takes up all the time - that's the issue.  Schools that don't have stellar performers and hovering parents sweat out these tests, since they don't want to flunk.  Every school wants those "A's", but every school is ranked against each other, so, just like a cross country race, there's one winner and a second place finisher and a bunch of losers after that... 

" In fact, the success of a team is sometimes measured by a single game, in a single day. Coaches are deemed successful based on their record. I remember when I was coaching; no matter in middle school or at the college level, my success was determined by the athletes I coached."  Again, earth to Hanna - there might be a dozen cross country races during the season - gifted runners will emerge, the rest of the runners will change places depending upon the competition.  In high school sports, the coach has to mold a team from the given student body - there might be star runners one year, then average for another; how they improve is a measure of how effectively they teach.  In public schools, you might have brilliant kids one year, then average the next - how do you judge the quality of a school based upon the variation?   In college sports though, the coach recruits the team - hey, just like how private schools work - be a selective recruiter, get really good grades for doing that. 

It's weird comparing our school system to a cross country race, since most of the kids running CC are not jocks, but kids who want to run and get exercise.  Why discourage that?  They only count the first five members anyway.  Teach all kids to read and write and do 'rithmetic - don't discourage them by telling them they are going to a loser school....

Comment by Kris Nielsen on March 11, 2014 at 12:23pm

To clarify, Hanna Skandera hails from Santa Rosa, California--not New Mexico.

Comment by Kris Nielsen on March 11, 2014 at 12:24pm

BUT, very valid points about sports divisions and their relations to school testing.  Thanks!


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