Pretty much everyone agrees that our kids are “more than a score”. At least as far as schools are concerned, though, we have a very hard time getting beyond grades and test scores. When your kid’s report card arrives, pretty much all you’ll see are grades. And, in most states, if you check out the report card for your school, pretty much all it shows are test scores.

If we care about the whole child, why do we only track grades and test scores?

We understandably look for objective data about school performance, and test scores are the lowest hanging fruit. When we need a way to track a child’s progress, grades and test scores are a convenient shorthand for assessing their accomplishments.

Grades and test scores are important, but so are many other factors. Critical thinking, engagement, mindset, and resilience, as well as social, emotional, and physical health — to name a few — are each at least as important as any grade or score. Historically we’ve had a harder time measuring these other factors we say we value, so we fall back on measuring what’s easy rather than measuring what matters. And, no matter how much we say we care about the whole child, if all we really track and report are grades and test scores, those two factors will always get the lion’s share of our attention.

Harvard Business School management guru Peter Druker is credited with coining the phrase, “what get’s measured gets managed”. In that spirit, if we’re interested in developing the whole child, we need to identify and develop holistic measures — for kids and for schools. There’s exciting progress on many fronts:

  • Increasing focus on the importance of social and emotional learning
  • Maturing capabilities to assess “soft skills”
  • Emerging technologies that synthesize rather than regurgitate data, helping educators spot trends and choose the right intervention at the right time for each kid
  • Policy changes, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the U.S., that allows states to consider factors beyond grades and test scores in education accountability systems

We launched Intellispark to help bring a new approach to how we assess student progress and provide holistic support services for every kid in achieving her full potential, and we’re excited to be helping families, schools, and community-based organizations to measure — and improve — what matters.

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith

Stephen M. Smith is CEO of Intellispark, chair of the national board at College Possible, and a member of the board of the National College Access Network. Steve is co-author of Who Do You Think You Are: Three Critical Conversations for Coaching Teens to College & Career Success, published by John Wiley & Sons.