Ode to defining numbers: love you, but educators gotta leave you

This is another Blogapalooz night for ChicagoNow. Tonight’s prompt is to write a love letter, but it can’t be to a person.

This is a love letter to numbers. But, it’s not a typical letter. It’s a break up letter with something you love, but something you can’t live with. I love numbers, but being “trapped” by numbers, is not good for me and if you read on, it’s not good for educators. Numbers hamper thinking. Someone’s either in or out. Qualifies or not. Why are we stuck on norms? Why don’t we look for positive progress? Why don’t we look at the whole picture? So numbers, specifically 11, 687, and 130, I’m breaking up with you. I love you, but I can’t live—or work-- with you.

11. I was born on April 11th. Eleven used to be my lucky number until I found myself very sick on one of those birthdays. I hated the day. I was so sad and miserable. There was nothing I could do to improve my health, so I scrapped “11” altogether. It was just easier than having the expectation that I would always enjoy that day. Now I try to enjoy most of my days with fewer expectations. So far, so good.

687. That’s the score I got the second time I took the LSAT. I won’t admit to my first score when I took the exam “cold”, but it was notably lower. Back in the day when 800 was the top score for the LSAT, 687 was a respectable score. It got me into Northwestern law school. Maybe two months had elapsed between the first time I took the LSAT and the second time. I was still the same person, but the higher number allegedly defined my aptitude for the law. Ok, I loved the higher number, but not the law. So where did that get me? Funny thing, I was once asked how I scored on the LSAT at a meeting with some of the partners at my old law firm. Let’s just say I didn’t average the scores. Haven’t thought of that number much since until tonight. The 687 was useless when applying for my masters degree in Education.

130. In my experience working with schools, that’s an “unofficial” IQ cutoff score for determining whether students are gifted. My old school district took a more holistic approach, looking at the child from the perspective of the teachers, the parents, and through performance on formal and informal assessments. I liked the process. By the time I spent weeks interviewing the student and giving him formal and informal assessments, the student was more than a number. When it came time to determine whether to identify the student as gifted, I presented the student, not the number, to staff at our meetings.

Our society has a love affair with numbers. We rank. We order. We measure. Think about it. We evaluate our students pursuant to No Child Left Behind and The Race to the Top. This love affair goes beyond evaluating students. More recently, teachers are getting evaluated in some areas based on student test scores.

What would the world look like if we got rid of standard deviations from the mean, bottom lines or norms? Yes, we loved you, but it’s time to blur distinctions.

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  • You now have me wondering what my LSAT score was. I thought I wouldn't never forget that number, but I guess I was wrong, and so it seems I'm right there with you in wanting to blur the distinctions :)

  • In reply to Shannan Younger:

    Are you in education or law now? Either way, we don't want to use numbers to categorize people! Thanks so much for your comment!

  • I can't believe you wrote this in an hour. Fantastic. I love the argument, but I love the strategy for writing to this prompt event more.

  • In reply to Kerri K. Morris:

    Thank you! Hope you had a wonderful trip. May the administrators read this.

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