Things that AREN’T on the bubble tests

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From Gerald Bracey (via Joe Bower), here’s a great list of things that AREN’T on the bubble tests our kids are taking:

  • creativity
  • critical thinking
  • resilience
  • motivation
  • persistence
  • curiosity
  • endurance
  • reliability
  • enthusiasm
  • empathy
  • self-awareness
  • self-discipline
  • leadership
  • civic-mindedness
  • courage
  • compassion
  • resourcefulness
  • sense of beauty
  • sense of wonder
  • honesty
  • integrity

Anyone want to argue that students who possess these will be less successful in life than those that don’t?

Anyone want to argue that these are less important than regurgitating decontextualized fact nuggets on a standardized assessment?

Anyone want to argue that schools shouldn’t be teaching these?

Anyone want to argue that these are not being crowded out in favor of increased emphases on fact nugget regurgitation?

No? No? No? No? Then why, again, are we doing what we’re doing?

Image credit: Taking a test

22 comments on this post.
  1. Andrew:

    But can you teach those things, really?

  2. TJ Shay:

    This post gets to the heart of why I don’t like the current ‘blueprint’ for Iowa reform. The continued reliance on testing does not help our students to be better global citizens or learners, which is truly why we need reform.

    Thank you for this.

  3. Michael Kaechele:


    You may not be able to teach them all directly but you can create an environment and encourage them to happen. The test prep atmosphere is definitely antithetical to them. You can allow space for them to happen by introducing students to wonder.

  4. Andrew:


    Totally agree. However, I’m totally sick of hearing stuff like “regurgitating decontextualized fact nuggets” as the antithesis. I also don’t buy into the notion that computers/technology are the answer to creating that environment.

    Our thinking assumes schools that are pretty-much like they are today. If you really believe in the importance of those “things that aren’t on the bubble tests,” then perhaps you don’t start with school at all – at least not a school that’s anything like what we have now. The law (at least in Iowa) leaves little to the imagination.

  5. Dr. R. A. NeSmith:

    It really is time that we permitted “new” schools to begin/startup who are able to help students learn and teachers teach “outside the box” (standardized tests).

  6. Rick:

    Andrew: Ask your school counselor that question and see what kind of response you get.

  7. Ben:

    Can good teachers help teach / develop creativity? Looks like the answer is yes –

  8. Andrew:

    That’s interesting. Thanks for the link. I wonder, though, if thinks other than schools may be responsible for the loss in creativity as measured by the test.

    Still, schools that encourage (or teach) creativity are bound to be better than those that don’t to my way of thinking just because they’d be more fun – I think fun is good.

  9. Heather:

    Why indeed! Unfortunately there are those that believe that regular standardized testing will help us determine teacher effectiveness. It is a travesty when children are sitting for tests that aren’t even going to inform instruction. We all lose when testing becomes the goal of education.

  10. Greg:

    I would just like to point out that music teaches all of those things.

  11. Derek:

    You should teach your child all of those “things” before they enter school at age 6.

  12. Ed:

    Here’s my cartoon take on it

  13. Bill Ferriter:

    What frustrates me, Scott, is feeling like I’m in the middle all the time.

    Here’s why: I believe in the primacy and relevance of all of these skills, but I’m not held accountable for teaching any of them.

    Then, I’m criticized when kids don’t possess these skills by the same people who push agendas that marginalize them.

    I give #edpolicy folks what they want — fact regurgitators — because that’s what I’m judged by (and someday in the not too distant future, compensated for).

    I guess what I’m wondering, then, is whose responsibility is it to start pushing for these kinds of changes?

    I hear a ton of people arguing for ground-up, front line changes — teachers taking a stand on what’s right in their rooms.

    But from my point of view, that’s never going to happen. The pressure to perform (read: get kids to pass the tests) and the consequences for failing to show growth (read: produce ever-higher test scores) are just too great.

    Any of this make sense?

  14. Scott McLeod:

    I wonder, Bill, if we’ll ever have folks who push for these skills because they’re seen as ‘soft’ skills rather than being hard and concrete and, thus, measurable. Employers have been asking for employees who have many of these skills for decades now – and of course most parents want these for their children and goodness knows we could use more citizens who possess these – but we still see little to no action.

  15. Andrew Peterson:

    Is this a true / false test? I’m confused :-)

  16. Dave:

    I’d argue that some of these things are directly related to doing well on tests whether they are MC bubble tests or anything else.

    • resilience
    • motivation
    • persistence
    • endurance
    • reliability
    • self-awareness
    • self-discipline
    • resourcefulness

    I’ll agree that the schools might not be teaching those skills as well as they could but they are certainly testing those habits of mind. Some of them (motivation, self-discipline and perhaps others) I question whether you can reliably teach. You can only model them for others to see and hope that the example clicks. The rest actually seem like virtues that can be well taught using testing as part of the methods.

    The remaining items on your list are more interesting to me. I agree that they are wonderful traits and critical to my conception of a good life. Over emphasis on testing does kill these traits and I worry about that but I worry about them in a broader context then just our schools.

    • creativity
    • critical thinking
    • curiosity
    • enthusiasm
    • empathy
    • sense of beauty
    • sense of wonder

    Too many adults do not demonstrate these traits. We can attempt to teach these and reward them in school but so much of the received curriculum around any student focuses on either restricting these traits to either certain special gifted “creative geniuses” or just plain disparages them. Bill is correct that while people in general talk like these are desired skills they push the education business away from these skills by evaluating and compensating teachers and schools in ways that do not reflect these values.

  17. Amelia Bumpers:

    Hello! My name is Amelia Bumpers and I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I definitely agree that students are not being taught these things in school in today’s society. But they need it more than anything. A student can have the highest GPA or IQ score ever, but if they are not reliable, honest, self-disciplined, etc. they will not be hired for a job, no matter how qualified they are. Somehow, we need to bring these qualities back into school systems.

  18. Bryan:

    Because teaching things that aren’t on bubble tests is messy.

    Our public education system is based on an Industrial Revolution era model of dispensing information to students in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible. The majority of kids in those days would eventually grow up to be farmers or factory workers; jobs in which the above traits were not highly valued.

    And without benchmarks that can be easily measured and reported, parents can’t compare themselves, er, I mean their kids, to one another and feel good that they’ll be going to Harvard over someone else’s kid. Politicians can’t give digestible soundbites with reasons to privatize our schools. Administrators can’t easily (lazily?) evaluate a teacher’s worth.

  19. Mary Hauber:

    So, has anybody presented this list to the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, or to whatever committee made the decision to base student achievement on standardized test scores? It would be a good way to get them started thinking in a different way…

  20. B.C.:

    I do see some of these in “character education” programs, but people often can’t agree on how to best teach them. (Ask anybody who isn’t a Christian and gets a survey on church attendance/religious belief as part of them)

    But really, the government is happiest not teaching thinking for yourself because all they need is mindless consumers, not ethical and thoughtful human beings.

  21. jeanette:

    i have to say as a mother of a moderate-profound dyslexic 6th grader, that some of the kids that simply cannot do well on the “bubble tests” exhibit many of these things. the school system is unwilling to notice the creativity and other things that these highly intelligent children have, and mark them as failures because they cannot get the info in their heads out on the paper, even in a bubble format. THAT IS A PROBLEM. Marking kids as failures, who are anything but…!!!!

  22. katrina:

    Just came across this awesome TEDx video (I LOVE TEDx!)

    In a way, this reminds me of a TEDx talk I heard recently – You’re Not That Great: A Motivational Speech:

    “You choose today whether you want your life to be not bad or great… a life devoid of risk or full of meaning. It is my sincere hope you choose a life full of meaning.”
    – Dr. Daniel Crosby.


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