Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes by Yong Zhao & Friends


Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes by Yong Zhao and friends takes on the current system with its focus on standardized tests and their sole focus on cognitive skills. Chapters are devoted to defining a variety of non-cognitive skills that are connected with success in life and the current status of how to assess them. They make a case for a new paradigm that would move the system towards more personalized learning and assessment with more focus on non-cognitive skills. Be sure to add this fine book to your professional development library.

Introduction – The Danger of Misguiding Outcomes: Lessons From Easter Island – Yong Zhao

  • Yong uses the story of how the natives of Easter Island overexploited the resources in a race to build ever bigger statues. He compares this to the current race to produce students with excellent tests scores. Here he makes the case that the obsession with test scores has and will continue to damage our education ecosystem. It has resulted in cheating, teaching to the test, focusing on students on the pass/fail border, and limiting the focus on subjects not tested. We are destroying teacher autonomy as we ignore real challenges like poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, and unequal access.
  • We are striving to produce a homogeneous population rather than supporting diverse talents. Routine knowledge and skills are stressed and they can easily be outsourced or automated. There are many negative side effects that are not considered unlike drug companies that must evaluate and publish side effects of their products. Creativity and non-cognitive skills are ignored. Students good at taking tests might not be good at anything else.

1. Numbers Can Lie: The Meaning and Limitations of Test Scores – Yong Zhao

  • Humans are too complex to be reduced to a single number, and such numbers should not be used to make life-changing decisions. Research indicates that IQ tests have limited predictive power. Personality variables like high and stable self-esteem appear to be decisive for life success. SAT and ACT tests are much less predictive of college success than a student’s high school GPA. After many years, the Common Core Standards don’t appear to make students college ready, while motivation, time management skills, and awareness of postsecondary norms and culture do.
  • A look at international tests shows that U.S. students have been bad at test taking for a long time. Such scores would suggest that by now the U.S. would be an economic backwater, but the facts suggest otherwise. It’s possible that countries that obsess about tests more than we do have discouraged the cultivation of creative and entrepreneurial spirits.
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