Truth About Achievement

guest written by Justin Ballou

One of the tell-tale signs that spring has arrived here in New England is the beginning of baseball season. The idea of Spring Training, the warm nights that are on their way, and the games at your local stadium really define (at least for New England) the great warm months of the year.

Now, I am a big of a baseball fan, but one thing I do is keep up with the Red Sox. Where I’m from, it is almost an act of blasphemy to not be paying attention to the hometown favorite as they begin their march towards October. In this focus, Spring training and the buildup of opening day allows us to reflect on Americas past time. And hidden….deep down in the pits of the fundamentals of sports and events like these….are the life lessons that we must appreciate to make progress. So…I began to think….

Taking the pitcher for example, how many of the pitches that they make the week before opening day do we have counted for or against them on game day? Do we look at the rating of the pitcher based upon the 275 throws in the past 3 days, or the 7 fantastic, (or poor) innings on game day? Other sports like football, (with a quarterback rating…) golf, (with the final score on the match), etc….all of them are based upon the ability to be assessed only at the proper time.

Transfer this to the professional world, and we see a pattern emerge that is older than the organization of traditional formal education itself. Are surgeons bad surgeons if they make a mistake on the operating table? Or, do they have the ability to make mistakes, learn, and re-apply knowledge and skills until they have shown mastery in order to get their license? How about the pilot? Or even something as universally accepted in the United States as a driver’s license?

And lastly, at the end of the feedback loop process…. Do those surgeons, pilots, and drivers get a credential that limit what they can do because of how long it took or how many times we had to reapply?

Education should be no different. Students all learn at different levels and with different methods…..but our system, (which has not really adapted in the last 100 years or so) still does the same thing. Students walk out of a class and are given a grade….not on what they know or are able to do….but on every small step of the way. So, in actuality, a student could have mastered EVERY concept, and can perform ALL tasks at the end of a semester. But, due to an antiquated method of ensuring mastery, could technically be turned away from the next step because of the number that is besides their name. This number is not always accurate. And it is this number presently, which has some of the strongest influence on their future. Pretty scary, huh?

So what do we do? We need to start taking a look at how we grade and what the purpose of the grade actually is. As teachers, parents, and self-advocating students, do we not want an educational system that can verify the skills, knowledge, and abilities of the student population? And if a student has proven they can perform the tasks put forth, should they not get ALL of the credit they deserve, rather than an outdated and lacking average that often serves to misrepresent the true student?

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them!

About the author: Justin Ballou is a high-school Social Studies teacher in New Hampshire. Besides teaching, he is active running an education startup called EduTech and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife. With edtech and authentic learning as his go-to topics, you can reach him at to ask questions or leave comments and follow him on twitter (@nhjbteach).

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