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Is Our “Gold Standard” for Education Research the Right Standard?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst grade students show improved performance with a reading intervention. But what about their enthusiasm for reading? And, have they improved on isolated skills or on being able to comprehend, analyze and use/appreciate the information?

Fifth grade students taught with a new mathematics curriculum show better ability to multiply and divide fractions. But do they understand the concepts? Can they come up with real-world illustrations of what  3 1/2 / 4/5 really means?

Eighth grade students show mastery of more science concepts when online teaching modules are used to supplement curriculum. But are they developing curiosity, a necessity for great scientists? Are they learning the lab techniques necessary for meaningful research? What about measures of their creativity? Are they increasing or decreasing?

Right now I’m seeing a great deal of research showing improvements that are:

  • Short term
  • Focused on standardized test scores
  • Concentrated on academic results while ignoring student attitudes and motivation
  • Measuring knowledge rather than measuring resulting creativity, curiosity and intrinsic motivation students will need to truly become masters of literacy, science, mathematics, and other fields.

There’s a great classic article, “On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B” (reference below). The examples come from many fields, such as businesses giving quarterly bonuses for short-term results when they really want long-term growth. Or, universities that want great teaching but reward based on publications.

We do the same in education. Here’s one warning that we need to recalibrate what we’re measuring in education’ Kim (2011) found that student creativity has decreased significantly since 1990 even as SAT and IQ scores have climbed. Let’s ensure we’re rewarding practices that

  • Develop lifelong readers, not short term test scores. Such research is more difficult and more expensive, but is anything else worthwhile?
  • Drive scientific curiosity, not just knowledge. Yes it’s harder to do and measure, but find a scientist who says, “Yep, memorizing Boyle’s Law put me on this path…”
  • Awaken creativity, not just academic proficiency. As Dennis Littky of The Met School put it, “Whoever wanted a standardized child anyway?”


Kerr, S. (1995). On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Academy of Management Executive, 9(1), 7–14.

Kim, K. H. (2011). The creativity crisis’ The decrease in creative thinking scores on the Torrance tests of creative thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23(4), 285–295.

Littky, D. (2011). Whoever wanted a standardized child anyway? In R. F. Elmore (Ed.), I used to think . . . but now I think (pp. 101–111). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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