Vail Daily column: Finding better measures
February 9, 2016
Last week, Brandon Busteed, executive director for Gallup Education (an extension of the famous public opinion polling and research organization) spoke to a group of school administrators in the Denver area. The gist of Busteed's remarks was that many of the measures we've come to rely on so heavily in rating and evaluating schools, teachers and students actually turn out to be pretty worthless when it comes to linking them to actual outcomes or things that really matter.
Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that a 4.0 GPA, a top class ranking and high test scores are the keys to a great job and future.
However, in a twist that turns conventional wisdom about traditionally important academic measures on its head, Google Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock noted in an interview with The New York Times that the company (which receives over 2.5 million job applications annually) has stopped using measures like GPA and test scores to evaluate applicants.
Google looked at the associations between these traditional academic rankings and job performance. The results of the analysis are surprising. Bock noted, "GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless … We found that they don't predict anything." Similarly, Bock notes that the importance of having a college degree is decreasing (at least in the tech world), and that the proportion of people working at Google who possess college degrees has been decreasing over the years.
So what does matter? Bock points out three key areas. First, the ability to learn is key — especially adapting to changing conditions on the fly and the ability to process changing and dynamic information into something that makes sense. Second is a kind of humble leadership — where someone can step up and take charge when they need to, but also step back and let others take command if it's in the best interest of the team. Finally, a sense of ownership and being willing to take responsibility for getting things done is important.
This is not to say that things like good grades, high test scores and graduating from college are going to hurt anyone. In some fields, these things are gateway requirements to a profession and the experiences one garners from earning these accomplishments can be valuable.
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However, we also have plenty of evidence that these traditional measures aren't all they are hyped up to be. Tech gurus Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, filmmaker James Cameron, actor Tom Hanks, entrepreneur Henry Ford and musician Lady Gaga — all are examples of college dropouts who went on to be fantastically successful people because they capitalized on their incredible talents and strengths besides the traditional academics.
Our community schools have already picked up on this profound shift and are putting it into action. While we still keep track of the traditional measures, we've shifted our emphasis toward the development of global-ready skills — things like initiative, problem solving, creativity, adaptability, curiosity and leading through influence.
In all of our schools, our educators are working to weave these kinds of skills into everything we do with students. The goal is to surface a greater set of talents in our young people and to create more authentic and engaging learning experiences. Our goal is to have graduates who have thousands of opportunities to practice these global-ready skills and who can enter higher education or the workforce able to engage and successfully get things done.
Making this shift requires a leap of faith and the courage to intentionally turn away from what our larger educational policy-makers have said is most important — the almighty standardized test score. The global economy has already made it abundantly clear that there is little need for routine and non-skilled labor. If we want our community's children to prosper and to be able to compete for a quality standard of living, they are going to need competencies in these different kinds of skills.
Toward the goal of getting better measures of these kinds of skills, the Gallup Organization has developed the Gallup Student Poll, which measures things like hope, engagement, entrepreneurial aspiration, and financial literacy. This past fall, students in Eagle County Schools participated in these measures for the first time, providing us valuable information about how our kids are doing on this higher order set of concepts.
Going forward, we'll have to continue to rank, score and evaluate using the old-school measures. However, we also aim to prepare our students for the future they will inherit — which involves shifting the paradigm toward a richer set of measures and ideas.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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