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Dec 11

Chris Smeaton

What’s really important in education?

Like most parents, I remember very clearly the day that our son and our daughter were born. Holding them in my arms that first time, I can guarantee you my first thoughts were not, “I sure hope they do well on their Provincial Achievement and Diploma Exams!” In fact, when I think back to their first days of school, I didn’t wish for that either. I wanted them to be healthy and happy. I wanted them to enjoy school like I did, to make friends, to love learning. I wanted them to love their teachers and for their teachers to really love them and to make them feel special. Although I’ve been reflecting on this for the last while, the point further resonated with me when I read the article, “Leave a mark, Not a grade.”

When I began my career in teaching, my goal was to make a difference in my students’ lives. As a coach, my goals always included learning, improving but most of all making an impact on my players’ lives. Making a difference in students’ lives is still my main goal as a superintendent. When I reflect on my time in the classroom or on a volleyball court, it is pretty easy to measure my level of success at making a difference. But as a superintendent, how do you measure whether I personally, or the system as a whole, are making a difference. The current system evaluates success based on standardized tests, surveys and other accountability pillar measures. The question is, “Does this really measure what’s important in education?”

Given my thoughts above, most would believe that I’m just another educator who doesn’t believe in accountability or standardized tests. In fact, quite the opposite! The billions of dollars spent on education is just one reason why accountability is required.  And standardized tests provide us with necessary benchmarks and rigour required for a high quality system. My issue is that the current accountability system only minutely measures what’s really important in education. Where in the color coded report card that every school division in Alberta receives does it tell me that we’ve made an impact on an individual student’s life? Furthermore, where does it tell us that the student has improved, is a better collaborator, critical thinker, problem solver, demonstrates immense creativity or any other of the 21st century skills required for tomorrow’s world.

I am hopeful with Alberta Education’s transformational agenda. Their vision from Inspiring Education to create an educational system that highlights the (1) Engaged thinker, (2) Ethical citizen and (3) Entrepreneurial Spirit, should be applauded. But for that reality to occur, each and every one of us must remember the hopes and dreams we have (had) for our children and grandchildren and ensure that what’s really important in education is what’s really measured!

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