Standardize Me


In her bold article for Education Week, “Schools Need a Culture Shift,” Betty J. Sternberg identifies “the skills and competencies needed to thrive in today’s world—teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and innovation,” and refers to “the culture of thriving, cutting-edge business environments.” So here’s the question: is the United States currently preparing its students to take on roles in the 21st-century workforce, positions that rely on what Eric Liu and I call the ICI Continuum (Imagination-Creativity-Innovation)? Sternberg, a former commissioner of education and superintendent of schools in Connecticut, doesn’t think so. In her view, the No Child Left Behind Act has focused the attention of too many American administrators and teachers on tests and the “progress” they measure, to the exclusion of other, richer aspects of learning.

At Lincoln Center Institute, we believe that holding teachers and school leaders accountable for their students’ learning—and measuring this growth—requires multiple measurement tools. We believe in clear and focused standards, but reject standardization. We embrace accountability, but reject teaching to the test as the sole means toward that end. The goal is to make connections between methods, based on the needs of students. Let’s be bold enough to do this.

The core of Sternberg’s argument is her belief that drilling kids to perform well on state tests is a shortsighted practice because it fails to foster the qualities that really make them successful students, workers, and citizens: love of learning, the ability to work with others, the desire to solve difficult problems, and so on. “They all deserve to grow into extraordinary individuals,” she writes, “not just a record of test scores.” As a commissioner, Sternberg did help develop methods of K-12 assessment, so she knows that measurement of knowledge is necessary and can be implemented “in authentic and meaningful ways.” But, according to her, we’re moving farther away from this ideal each day.

We at LCI have our own idea of what imaginative learning looks like; for more information, visit our Web site at What is your vision of imaginative learning? And how do you think we can spread it throughout our schools in order to produce both happier, more engaged students and a stronger, more competitive America?