The Thing NFL Kickers and Standardized Testing Have in Common

Who is the greatest NFL player of all time? How do we determine that? If we were to start nominating players, we might suggest Jim Brown, Tom Brady, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Peyton Manning, Barry Sanders, or Lawrence Taylor. We would debate the merits of each player, and things might get heated. So I suggest we decide upon an objective metric by which we determine who really is The G.O.A.T.

Adam Vinatieri and Tom Brady
Adam Vinatieri > Tom Brady?

After some reflection, we agree that games are won by the team that scores the most points, so we decide that the greatest player of all time is the player who has scored the most points. That seems like a very logical and objective measure to settle this debate.

So we look it up and realize that the top scorers of all time are all kickers. I say, “It’s settled then. Adam Vinatieri, Morten Andersen, and Gary Anderson are the greatest players in NFL history. Man, we were way off base with Brady, Brown, and Taylor! None of those players are even in the top 30! Also, I had no idea that Ryan Succop was better than Tom Brady, but clearly that's the case!"

Ryan Succop
Ryan Succop - Better than Brady?

Would that be the end of the discussion?

We can see how the metric we chose led to some very weird conclusions. We see how our choice of objective measurement resulted in warped views biasing our analysis heavily in favor of kickers. By using the scoring metric to rank NFL players, Tom Brady isn’t even in the top 250.

But nobody who truly understands football would accept this analysis.

Likewise, while the metrics used to evaluate public schools are objective, they are VERY FLAWED and result in very warped and uninformed conclusions by the those who don’t truly understand education.

By making standardized testing of basic skills the ruler, great, holistic teaching risks being similarly undermeasured. By using high stakes tests as the primary measuring stick, school leaders are forced to ignore and dismiss much of what SHOULD be highly valued in education: the arts, creativity, character, and social/emotional/mental/physical health. They then pressure teachers and their students to focus almost exclusively on preparing to perform well on these tests, to only be concerned with "kicking." And in the process, the whole system becomes dehumanizing.

Teaching and learning become joyless endeavors. We rob children of their childhoods, and great teachers leave the profession because they can no longer stand being forced to commit malpractice.

Kicking is an important part of football, and basic skills are an important part of education. But when we place too much emphasis on either, we make faulty assumptions and develop erroneous beliefs about what defines greatness. Until we change the criteria we use to determine greatness, our schools will continue to suffer. To build the schools our educators and their students deserve, we must insist upon an entirely new evaluation system that gives us an accurate view of quality schooling.

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