Indigo: Empowering educators with online tools for analyzing education assessments

The Indigo Education Company is a social enterprise that administers their corporate level non-cognitive Indigo Assessment surveys in high-school and college classrooms and ensures that the results are accessible and informative for students and educators. In contrast to traditional academic evaluations, the Indigo Assessment places a high emphasis on the social and emotional aspects of student development, highlighting non-academic strengths, behavior styles and motivators. The reports that Indigo generates from these assessments have had different purposes in different contexts — they have been used by students for career guidance and better understanding themselves, educators for supporting students, and policy-makers for understanding the underlying data and making appropriate amendments to curricula.

Click here to read more.

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Online Courses: A Different Option for the Modern Student

 

(Articles published in Best Colleges.com).



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In the job world of the 21st century, a degree can seem like a prerequisite to starting a career. The degrees are requiring more and more schooling, and the competition drives students to search out bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees. But many students don’t have the time, the resources, or the mobility to go to a campus and learn the way others can; their life, current job, family, or other life problems might require them to stay where they are, and only allows them certain, erratic times for study. This is where an online degree becomes invaluable. Studying online allows a student to complete their school when and where they want, with less money spent on living, travel, and supplies.


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There are many different options out there, and so many students searching for online degrees, so it can be difficult to find a fit that’s right for a student and their life. These three articles from Best Colleges.com are a helpful resource for students trying to decide whether or not to pursue a degree online. For each of the following, some questions and concerns that you may be having are answered with this comprehensive list of the best options out there.

Look for an online degree for BACHELORS, MASTERS, DOCTORATE

Look for the 50 BEST ONLINE COLLEGES OF 2018

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Athletics meet Non-Academics: College Basketball Team using Indigo to Up Their Game

 

(Version of this story published in Niagara Gazette).


Coach Bill Beilein isn’t only teaching offensive and defensive strategies to his players, he’s also teaching how to work with people different than them.


Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Coach Bill Beilein is tackling sports head on with Indigo.

Beilein is the head men’s basketball coach at Niagara County Community College, and this season is a momentum builder. It’s the best record he’s seen at NCCC as the head coach, including decisive victories over teams like Henry Ford College (95-47) and Isaiah Christopher Academy (107-59). His goal is to capitalize on momentum to make NCCC a destination school for junior college athletes.

As Beilein and his assistant coach Mike Corbi continue to further their success, they have to dive deeper into how to develop players. “Some of the questions we have to answer are how will we grow together and understand each other?” said Beilein, “Also, who are we as a team and what are our ideal circumstances for peak player performance?”

Beilein now has the luxury of taking a step back to understand the individual strengths of his players, and how he can capitalize on them both on and off the court. He needed to understand who are the young men that make up his team.


Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Regional Director Natalie and the Niagara County Community College basketball team.

Beilein brought on Indigo to learn more about how he can improve the human dynamics on his team. Indigo provided the Indigo Inventory to engage students in who they are and how they can work better together.

The work changed the dynamics of the team. The Inventory helped both the coaches learn more about how to communicate with and motivate individual players. It also helped the team better understand how to talk with their coaches. Beilein is a dominant, loud, move quick and act quick kind of coach who should be approached with big-picture things. Corbi is more of a low-key, consistent, detail tracking coach who can handle the day-to-day, granular issues of each player.


NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

NCCC team players discussing the results of their Indigo Reports.

It also helps the coaches identify opportunities to develop students outside of athletics – character, academics, career future. It helps focus on opportunities to bring the best out of players, and translate that success to life off the court.

One of Indigo’s focuses in Western New York is to create more opportunities to connect students to career pathways and opportunities based on their strengths. “There is a huge push to expand conversations like the ones happening with NCCC’s basketball team in schools,” said Indigo Program Director Natalie. “Our goal is to reach more than 50,000 New York students in 2017 so that we can help students find that spark that will drive them in life.”

Through Natalie, Indigo Project is working with 10+ high schools and community organizations, including entities such as Liberty Partnerships, Lewiston-Porter, Lockport, Grand Island, and Niagara Global Tourism Institute. 

 

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Indigo Hits BOCES in Niagara Falls

This past week, Indigo worked within throwing distance of Niagara Falls (the 8th wonder of the world). The Indigo Team hosted 10 districts in Western New York for a shared event to collaborate, share ideas, and talk about ways Indigo could be used in schools.



Lockport High School teachers and counselors going through an Indigo workshop.

Lockport High School teachers and counselors going through an Indigo workshop.


CEO Sheri Smith with a Buffalo Public Schools educator.

CEO Sheri Smith with a Buffalo Public Schools educator.

The event is a big celebration for Indigo – by hosting the event, all 10 districts can now get reimbursed by BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) for any work they do with Indigo.

Now, nearly twenty high schools in the Niagara Falls and Buffalo area can access Indigo’s products and services without finances being a barrier. It’s a huge step toward increasing the equity of our product suite for students in schools that want to partner with us.

Indigo has been working extensively in Western New York the past nine months through Natalie Beilein, our Program Director. She was recently featured in Niagara Gazette for the impact she had on one of the top-ranked junior college basketball teams in the nation.

It’s exciting to see all the buzz and excitement educators are having for Indigo. We saw teachers, counselors, social workers, and administrators from across the region exchanging ideas, sharing contact information, and discussing issues that matter in their schools. 

We are so thankful for BOCES helping make our services more affordable to high schools in Niagara-Orleans County. Can’t wait to bring this type of equity to schools throughout the state in the coming months, and further the work Natalie is doing leading Indigo in her region!

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High School Sun Devils Discover who they are Through Indigo


It may be January, but it’s still warm under the Arizona sun. We went out to meet high school students at ASU Preparatory Academy to unpack the Indigo with the Sun Devils. But we added a new twist: instead of working with the students on one day and the teachers on the other, we sat down for four hours with students and teachers in the same room.

Now, four hours is a long time, no matter how many bagel breaks you toss into the package. You may wondering: is it even possible for teachers and students to stay that long in the same room without going crazy?

Maybe it’s the magic of school, maybe it’s the magic of Indigo, or maybe we had just the right amount of bagel breaks: they were engaged the entire time. And they stayed after to ask questions.

How do you get teachers and students that engaged? The same way you make a first date go well – you let them talk about themselves. It’s as easy as that.

The whole day was designed around unpacking the Indigo Inventory answering questions around who students are, who teachers are, and how they can better work together by knowing each other better.


I could tell you more, but students are better storytellers than I am. Here’s how four students reacted to the Indigo Inventory and going through an Indigo Day with their teachers.



Gonzalo / 9th Grade: 

Dominance is my type of behavior style. I am tough but fair and I view championing as a worthy cause. I strive to improve myself or the situation I am involved with. I have a competitive nature and enjoy working with others. The Indigo Self-Assessment results were pretty accurate in their description of me.”



Isabella / 9th Grade: 

“I discovered that I have an Influencing behavior style. I like to lead and work with people who can hold a conversation. I appreciate constructive criticism but don’t respond well to being talked down to. I know how to negotiate to get what I want. The results were accurate and there were even some characteristics that I hadn’t realized about myself.”



Ethan / 11th Grade: 

“I was surprised at how detailed the Indigo assessment results were. They really described the way I am. I am a “High I” which means I have an influencing behavior style. I am detail oriented, creative, but I also have difficulty managing my time. I do a really good job of verbalizing my feelings, negotiating and giving feedback.”



Kale / 12th Grade: 

“My Indigo results showed that I am high in the area of Steadiness. I am a steady and consistent member of a team and look for a strong leader to support. I have a good mix of procedures and creativity that I can offer a team. I found it interesting to see the careers I was matched with such as photography, forestry and being a laboratory assistant, which I am actually interested in becoming.”


Thank you for letting us come into your school, ASU Prep! We look forward to future opportunities to work together (and more warm winter days in Arizona)!


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What is ‘Non-Academic Data’?

A big part of the work Indigo does is providing schools ‘non-academic data’ that can be used to connect better with students and personalize education. But this begs an obvious question: what the heck is ‘non-academic data’?

It’s a question we get a lot at Indigo, and we understand. The phrase ‘non-academic data’ sounds like it should be in the small print of a nutrition facts next to words like ‘Dietary Fiber’ or ‘Vitamin B2’. It’s not the kind of term that gets thrown around in everyday life.

Here’s how we like to think about it at Indigo. Remember the buzzword ‘Big Data’ that took off a few years ago? What we do is human big data. We look at the behaviors, motivators, skills, and strengths of students, teachers, and administrators to identify trends that are going on in classrooms, schools, and districts.


So there’s academic data like grades, scholarship dollars, and ACT scores; and then there’s everything else. At Indigo, we focus on everything else.

But again, it begs yet another question: what can you do with non-academic data?

The short answer: *a lot*

The long answer: we’re still learning all the ways it intersects with education, and we’re looking to some of our most innovative schools to work with us in discovering them. Here’s just a few ways Indigo is leveraging non-academic data to make a big impact:

1. Classroom Analytics

If you’re a teacher, then you get it: some years, you get that fifth period class that seems to be full of troublemakers. What makes them different than your second period students who are always kind, polite, and write assignments in legible handwriting?


With Indigo data, teachers can see what makes each classroom unique and understand how the students in the room perceive their own behaviors and motivators. It gives teachers the ‘in’ to learn about their students faster and troubleshoot ways to make each class a success.

 

2. Mentor Pairing

We all love mentor-mentee programs. It’s just cool to see a senior pouring into a freshman’s life. Imagine if you could match students even more intelligently?


By looking at motivators, educators can find students who connect with each other. Instead of just pairing up a senior and a freshman because they are both in the yearbook club, what if you could pair them up because of a shared, mutual desire to find balance and harmony in the world?

 

3. Grade Correlations

We’ve been doing a lot of exciting work on the university level with this. We all want to know why certain students ace, and others drop out. Student success is an ever-evolving Rubik’s Cube, and there is no copy-and-paste answer that meets all schools and cultures. But what if you could diagnose the symptoms of success in your school?


By lining up Indigo data with grades, we can look for trends in academic success. For example, the students who are getting the most A’s may be the students who are high in Compliance (detail-oriented, logical, cautious), while students who are getting mostly C’s and D’s may be higher in Influencing (talkative, relationship-focused, easily distracted).

From there, helping the high Influencing students succeed is just a matter of reorienting the lesson plans to involve more group discussion and collaboration. Educators using Indigo can make smarter, faster bets on how to improve failing students.

 

4. Teacher Coaching

We’re always growing and learning as adults. We want to find new ways to succeed using our strengths. Some of our best schools are using Indigo to have positive, teacher-initiated conversations about how Indigo can be used to help teachers continue growing.


Here’s an easy example: one teacher we worked with was 98 out of 100 in Dominance (direct, competitive, blunt). This teacher realized they had a gift at teaching in front of large groups, and that they should seek out more opportunities to get in front of larger groups of students. Even a conversation as simple as that can help orient an educator toward their strengths.

It doesn’t matter how old you are – we all can benefit from honest conversations about ways to use our strengths!

 

5. College and Career Counseling

You want to push forward your college and career advising game into the next century? Use Indigo data. If you can help students identify what type of environments fit their communication styles (Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, Compliance) and what gets them excited in life (Motivators), you can radically change the effectiveness of your advising center.


Not only can it help students find out faster what they want to do (shortening the amount of time it takes counselors to get students to that “aha!” moment), but it can help students get placed in future paths that they’ll stick with (increasing retention and success at the next step). Our Director of Training and Advising works with dozens of counselors across the United States to help them make the transition into using Indigo’s non-academic data as a cutting edge college and career tool.


So what really is ‘non-academic data’? It’s part of the solution to modernizing education. It’s the foundation of what the Whole Child Initiative will one day lead us into as country. Successful education will always be relationship based, and human big data will help educators reach more students better, faster, with a lasting impact.

To learn more about how Indigo can work with your school to bring human big data to your school, contact us at info@indigoproject.org!

  

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Two Roads Assistant Principal Writes Academic Paper on Indigo


Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.

Teachers at Two Roads Charter School in an Indigo Training.


    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

    John Waters, rocking the backward hat.

John Waters is an Assistant Principal at Two Roads Charter school. He’s a four-time “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” and knows where all the good places to eat are in Westminster (trust me, we went to Dae Gee last time). In my opinion, he’s one of the most chill High S and High C’s I’ve ever met.

Not only is Waters clocking 40+ hours a week working with the Two Roads family, but he’s also working on his masters right now at the University of Colorado Denver. He did an organization profile on Indigo Project this past fall, interviewing multiple members of the Indigo team to learn about what we are doing.

We loved his paper. Not only is Waters a sharp operator, but he’s worked with Indigo for nearly a year now at Two Roads. He’s seen us from a researcher and client perspective. This is how, in his eyes, he sees our mission:

“To understand Indigo Project’s mission is to also understand that students do not achieve success in secondary education solely through standardized practices and methodologies. While all good teachers know that there are various learning styles within each classroom … many struggle with how to dig deeper in knowledge of their students … Indigo enters when a school wants to deconstruct these and discuss solutions and opportunities for growth.”


                Students at Two Roads' Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

                Students at Two Roads’ Littleton campus after an Indigo Student Workshop.

There are no systems or standardized practices that meets the needs of students in secondary education because there are no systems or practices that fits for everyone. Students are different, and Indigo helps deconstruct what makes students who they are. We build solutions with administrator teams.

One of the great things about Two Roads is that their entire administration team is on board with the work Indigo is doing:

“Because the administrators at my school are committed to understanding our students beyond their academic performance, we felt there were missing pieces in our puzzle of holistically developing our student body…Our leadership team was frustrated with our students’ low state-level standardized test scores because we knew they were learning but struggled to perform well on the tests’ markers.”

Two Roads’ district, Jefferson County Public Schools, is beginning the conversation around non-academic outcomes (NAO). JeffCo is working to create more opportunities in development for growth mindset, grit, collaboration, and mindfulness to name a few.


Two Roads' teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

Two Roads’ teachers talking about what personalized education would look like at their school.

NAO is still in its early days, and districts everywhere are working to define what it is, how to measure it, and what “impact” really means. It’s part of the conversation we are having with Two Roads currently. It takes time. It takes effort.

Waters knows that the newness of NAO means it will take time to see tangible results. Although the long-range goals are still being discovered in Indigo and Two Roads’ partnership, Waters still believes Indigo is part of the future of NAO:

“If Jeffco and other school districts in the state or nationwide choose to explore NAO, I would advocate strongly for Indigo Project despite my school’s lack of identifying definitive outcomes at this time.”

This is what we’re most excited for in 2017. Now that we’ve established our presence in Colorado, New York, California, and Arizona (projects in over ten states), we are working to build new tools and platforms that will allow schools to do even more than they are already doing with Indigo data. We’re discovering new ways to make non-academic data intersect intelligently with curriculum, counseling, analysis, and most importantly, building personal and meaningful human relationships that matter.

We’re not a perfect company, and we’re still growing into who we are. But it’s always encouraging to see schools give honest opinions, help us grow, and stand by us as we continue to move forward in the mission of impacting one million students. Because students, at the end of the day, are why anyone who works at Indigo gets out of bed in the morning.


                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

                           Director Joel Kaplan teaching improv after a student workshop.

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Indigo’s Theory of Change Explained

Indigo’s Theory of Change Explained

May 5th, 2016, written by Nathan Robertson


 How do you change schools when educators are at their breaking points, students feel disconnected with the school, and administrators feel like their Masters in Education Leadership did nothing to prepare them for operating a school well?

Some schools seem to change with ease. They bob and weave with the trends and are always launching new programs with forward-looking agendas. The parent community always rallies behind them with support. Students are writing their own publications, starting businesses, and spend off periods pursuing passion projects.

Some schools are like that. Some.

Some schools are struggling to make it through each day. They can’t bob and weave – they get hit hard by each changing trend and policy. New ideas and initiatives get lost in subcommittees and inner-school politics. Parents are sullen, unhelpful, and often are only a source of complaints. It’s a struggle to get students in desks, yet alone see them learn anything they will apply to their lives.

Many schools, I fear, are more like that.

There is a bevy of big ideas in education – and a countless number of school models – trying to make schools nimble, quick, and agile when it comes to change. But which ones do you pick? How do you prioritize what resources to use when changing a school? How do you make teaching kids social emotional learning or training teachers in lean launch techniques relevant? How do you deal with financial limitations?

Where do you begin?


Often times, it is unclear. Schools don’t know where to begin, and the resources do nothing but overwhelm them even more.

At Indigo, we have developed a working hypothesis based on our work with dozens of schools. We are getting a clearer sense of what is needed to equip a school to change its culture and self-sustain transformation towards a safe, positive environment focused on personalized learning.

How do you change a school? First, you change the people in your school.

 

The Three Pillars in a School

Change begins with aligning the three main constituents of education: students, leadership and teachers. Successful change only happens when these three groups are aligned. If students aren’t onboard, no new ideas stick. If leadership isn’t onboard, the best ideas are stifled. If teachers aren’t onboard, then the classroom experience won’t change – no matter what ideas students and leadership push forward.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself will not stand.” If a house divided against itself cannot stand, what makes anyone think schools will fare any better when divided?

That’s why it is so important to engage these three pillars. It’s the key to successful change.

Students – Bottom-up, “The Groundswell” 


Students are the reason why the education industry exists. If society ever reverted back to parents teaching their children, then teachers, principals, policy makers, and think tank education researchers are all out of jobs. We are employed out of an obligation to develop this nation’s youth.

However, it is not uncommon for students’ voices to go unheard. This does not just happen at struggling, financially strapped schools. I have been at successful college-prep academies where students feel they have no choice in their education path.

Students need to be met not only “where they are”, but also as “who they are.” By meeting students where they are and as who they are, schools pave the way for student-centered and personalized learning.

It’s easy to write off the ideas of a 15-year-old high school student. But the best innovations come from people on the ground level. Factory workers can identify better improvements than an engineer who has never stepped in the plant. Servers see better ways to please customers than a manager who sits in the back office.

Just think about what sort of insights educators could get if they really took time to understand who students are, what they are passionate about, and then change the way they teach.

 

Leadership – Top-down, “The Gatekeepers”

Principals, headmasters, and CMO directors are shaping the landscape of education. They choose school models, handle hiring, start initiatives, and control the direction of schools. Sometimes it is a leadership team – sometimes it is an individual who rules carte blanche through force of personality. Regardless of structure, leadership choices cascade down to affect our teachers and students.


Some leaders struggle with the idea that their school needs to change – to admit the need is to admit failure. They close off to new ideas from their faculty and students. Other leaders are under pressure from their board or community and feel they can’t change – even if they want to change.

Principals and high-level administrators must understand what needs to be done and “buy in” to innovation.

Different leaders have different motivations. Some will be convinced through data. Some will be convinced by arguing with them that change will do good for the students. Strategies vary. Once leadership is onboard, however, resources can begin to move to gain momentum for change.

 

Teachers – Pivot Point, “The Go-Getters”


Teachers are the true change makers in schools. They run the classrooms. They have meaningful relationships with students. They are training, coaching, and evaluating every young person that comes into their rooms. The modern teacher is part content master, part assessment expert, and part personal Sherpa.

Teachers stand as the intermediary between students and leadership. Without them, neither side would be heard by the other. If a school’s teachers simply stayed in the classroom and didn’t mind the rest of the school environment, then schools would fall apart into pieces. Culture cannot be built without the support of teachers.

Teachers must be the pivot point in bridging communication, idea generation, and implementation for students and leadership.

Many administrators I speak with groan about “the one time the school tried to do such-and-such professional development program, but the teachers didn’t respond well to it.” Imagine if you could get teachers excited for a shift that is part of the long-term vision. What would your school look like?


                                                                       It’s Not Easy, but Easy Work is Boring


All of Indigo’s work centers around bringing these three pillars together. We are the catalyst that aligns these key stakeholders and drives them towards culture change and personalized learning. We have seen that when schools begin to get all three groups on the same page, change occurs organically and is sustained from within the school without support from Indigo.

Schools thrive when students are engaged, leadership is motivated, and educators construct the bridges for change. Our vision is to create a world where those schools exist in every county, city, and state in the country. At Indigo, we work everyday to make that a reality.

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Student Voice: Ahrash

Student Voice: Ahrash

April 25th, 2016, written by Nathan Robertson


I met Ahrash in a Kansas City suburb. I was working with 100 or so students doing workshops at his school, Blue Valley CAPS. At the end of the day, one of the administrators pulled me aside.

 

“Hey Nathan, can you talk with one of our students? I think you may have some good advice for him.”

“Sure. What’s his name? Anything I should know about him?”


“His name is Ahrash – he owns his own business. He’s trying to increase sponsorship for gaming tournaments he runs, thought you may have some good thoughts for him.”

 

There is something you don’t hear everyday – an 18-year-old seeking advice on business sponsorships.

Ahrash is as intense and passionate as you might imagine. Not only is he running a business, but at the time he was working on a research paper about why testing is not an effective way to prepare students for the real world. He’s a teenage business owner writing about how the education system hadn’t served him correctly.

After 20 minutes with him, I knew I had to get Ahrash on our website.

I’ll get out of the way to let Ahrash do the rest of the talking. Below is a short interview of him talking about his journey, his thoughts on testing, and why he thinks more schools should look like Blue Valley CAPS. If that is not enough to inspire you, scroll down to read his research paper.

Our youth are powerful. They have passions. They have a voice. Is your school empowering students to speak in this way?

The Effects of Academic and Standardized Testing on a Student

By Ahrash Karbasi

In today’s society students are being bombarded every day with test after test, resulting in grades going down, and in some cases, depression. There are many students sitting through an 8-hour school day learning things that they don’t want to because the school cannot offer a class to teach them what they want to learn, leading them to not try for tests and assessments. Because high-stakes academic and standardized tests fail to measure a student’s future academic potential or creativity and cause undue stress for students of all ages, academic and standardized testing should be eliminated as much as possible.

High stakes tests can be different for every student. For a student who is doing poorly in the class, it could mean that every test counts towards them graduating and passing the class. For someone that takes tests easily without the need to study, Finals, the ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams are probably the high stakes tests. People may wonder who makes these tests; why are they so hard, and why do they decide your future. Alfie Kohn explains in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, that there are these so called “educational authorities” that have been given the right to create a test that decides ones future. However, those people did little to take into account the different: learning styles of students, skill levels, or even where they went to school. Kohn also explains in his book that students that are in a lower income based town are inherently going to be worse test takers and in turn more trouble makers. It is almost impossible for the “educational authorities” to take these multiple factors into consideration even though they should, after all, it is a test that decides the rest of your life. If the school system continues like this, with these standardized tests and college entrance exams, we will end up living in a society much like the society in The Giver. People will start taking tests and it will decide where they will be “placed”, like they have no choice at all, almost exactly The Giver portrays when they have young teens placed into their “correct job”, apparently fit for them.

There are multiple alternatives to the methods that we have now. Howard Gardner explains in his novel The Alternative to Standardized Testing that schools and testing methods should change to how most pre-industrial societies were like. They slowly integrated children and young teens (depending on skill level) to a hands on learning environment and gave them a learning figure based on not only what they were good at, but what they wanted to do as well. Gardner isn’t the only one talking about this. Khon and Gardner both talk about apprenticeship learning in their novels. Apprenticeship learning is a fancy term for saying hands on learning. It’s the more modern version of the pre-industrial integration/learning process for teens. Very few schools around the world give students an opportunity to do things like this. For example, Blue Valley CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) does this almost perfectly. With the combination of connections, guidance, and tools, the students are able to not only have a more relaxed and comfortable environment to work in, but they also go off campus for research, meetings, learning sessions with mentors/sponsors. That combination gives an edge up in the real world for students that have the opportunity to do such things. They have basically been introduced to the work force, giving them insight on what they would like to do after high school or college. However, the only way they are going to get to any of those jobs is by passing all of those exams.

Some may think that testing isn’t bad at all. And personally I agree with that, most people do. Testing is a great way to set aside the prepared versus the unprepared. However that’s only in ideal conditions. There are multiple factors to take into consideration when looking at students test scores, from if they studied to just having a bad day or week during the testing period. I interviewed Nathan Robertson via email after listening to his presentation over Indigo at CAPS. Indigo’s main goal is “empowering students with non-academic assessment and analytics”. Meaning that they go around providing schools with a different method of testing. One that shows a student’s weaknesses and strengths. Robertson is working with his team to bring this to a national or even an international level, shifting the current regime of testing to a more modern version of placement testing. Even Robertson says, “Testing in itself is not inherently bad. It’s important to discover an objective metric by which to measure achievement. Where I think our education system is currently struggling is that tests such as the ACT or SAT do not account for the things that make us human. How do you account for creativity? How do you measure presenting skills on paper?” Just like Robertson said, there is no way the SAT or ACT can measure a students passion for a project, creativity, and certain skill sets. The only thing those tests can do is tell if a student is good at memorizing equations, viewing and analyzing charts, as well as working through a math problem. He goes on to explain how standardized tests have no way of proving one’s career success, or how they will act and live in the real world.

            Laura-Lee Kearns explains in her section within the “Canadian Journal of Education” that an improvement in test scores doesn’t always mean an improvement in learning. Just like Robertson said in my interview with him “… a school can prove they are ‘good’ if their ACT scores rise, or ‘exceptional’ if a certain percentage of students get over a 30.” Meaning that it’s just a false sensation of someone getting better. Sure they might get better at memorizing it, but did the student really learn that, and are they even going to remember it past high school, or college?

Students aren’t the only ones effected by this push for more testing. Stress is brought upon teachers as well. A student and teacher can only teach do so much when being lectured and pushed by his/her parents, administrators, peers, or even the media. That is exactly why “…standardized testing brought about a real sense that there was a lack of care and concern for their well-being and that of their peers.” (Kearns 118) School used to be people’s safe place, their go to when they had stress and just needed to focus on something they were passionate about. Teachers used to be the ones students went to for help, not only with school but life choices as well. Now all of that is just clouded up by the stress that the administrators push onto their teachers and students. “Some students not only expressed ‘shock’ and a lack of understanding at the test results, but some felt ‘shame,’ ‘degraded,’ “humiliated,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘a little less smart,’ ‘like a loser,’ and expressed ‘fear,’ upon learning that they had failed.” (Kearns 119) Those things that students think about themselves cause so much stress, sometimes so much that they cant handle it anymore, leading to increased dropout rates, depression, or even in worst cases, suicide, all things Kearns says in her study. The educational system is beginning to become corrupted and turning into the opposite of what it was meant to be.

Even many intelligent and very smart people have to deal with things like this all the time. I personally struggle with theses high stakes tests every day. My high school administrators will look at my ACT score and my GPA and deem me an “at risk” student (qtd. in Kearns 115) Meaning that I might not even pass or graduate, and that I certainly don’t have the potential in college or past that. However, they don’t look at the long lasting business that I have been working on for 2 years, one that has gotten me scholarship offers to schools that know my grades and ACT scores, and even gotten me money after the point where I started braking even. The school again, doesn’t take necessary things into consideration when they should. Nathan Robertson talked about how he too was affected by this for 19 years, trying to figure out why the educational system was like this and what he wanted to do with his future. He said, “I was a kid that didn’t fit the high school system. I had 30 on the ACT but only a 3.0 GPA. I was bored, restless and unable to see the value in my education.” And that’s exactly what brings students down, some that are even too accelerated for their classes become affected like Nathan was. That’s exactly why he started working at Indigo. He wanted “to help students make those type of discoveries about themselves when they are younger. The sooner you figure out what makes you tick and how you can be confident in that, the sooner you can go out into the world and do big things.” Assessments that Robertson and his team at Indigo create should be the new method of testing in today’s modern society.

Overall, testing isn’t a bad thing. And many anti-testing representatives agree with that. There is just a limit. There should be testing in the form of quizzes, unit tests, and maybe even finals. But to go as far as having a test such as the SAT or ACT decide the rest of your life for you, well that’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed in the first place. After all, we don’t want to end up living in a society like The Giver.

Works Cited

Gardner, Howard. Evaluation in Education and Human Services. Vol. 30. Boston;

Dordrecht: S.n., 2000. Print.

Herman, Joan. The Effects of Testing on Teaching and Learning. Washington, D.C.:

Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse, 1990. Print.

Kearns, Laura Lee. High-stakes Standardized Testing and Marginalized Youth: An

Examination of the Impact on Those Who Fail. Http://files.eric.ed.gov/. St.

Francis Xavier University, 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving beyond Traditional Classrooms

and “tougher Standards” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Print.

Reddell, Samantha. High Stakes Testing: Our Children at Risk. Print.

Robertson, Nathan. “Re: CAPS Presentation” Message to the author. 2 Feb. 2016. E-mail.

 

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4 Easy Ways To Help Students Believe in Themselves

4 Easy Ways To Help Students Believe in Themselves

April 19th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson
 

Why Do We Focus on the Negatives?

The thing that frustrates me the most in life is negative self-image. In our culture, people often struggle to acknowledge their strengths and passions. They focus on weaknesses. It’s so bad that people often warp their strengths into sounding like weaknesses! Being “outspoken” turns into “I talk too much”. Being a “planner” turns into “I’m not spontaneous”.

I see this throughout our society. Where I see it the strongest is within schools.

Students are disengaged, disconnected, and struggle to find their value. It can show up as behavior problems or academic failure. Rarely is it a problem with the student’s ability to learn or interact with others. They act out and struggle because they don’t see value in themselves.

Maslow’s Hierarchy and How it Affects Students

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular tool used in sociology research, psychology training, and even management coaching. The insight is simple and profound – to reach our highest potential, we need to first have esteem for ourselves. To gain esteem, we must feel we our accepted by our peers. But we can’t process acceptance if we don’t feel safe, and we can’t even meet that need if food and shelter needs are not met. Without a base, students can’t aspire for higher levels.

Put simply, students can’t self-actualize and reach their full potential overnight. It takes work getting there.


Here is my question: do you think students are self-actualizing and reaching their full potential? Do you think they have esteem for themselves? Are they even socially accepted by a group of friends in school or their community? The more students I meet across the nation, the more I begin to doubt it. I think many students feel uncomfortable in their schools because they don’t feel like they belong. They don’t feel like they have value.


So how can we turn around students? What is the point of trying to get students to self-actualize if they haven’t even felt accepted yet? What is the point of launching a new STEM lab if students feel like they are outsiders? What is the point of bringing community-based companies to talk about careers if students think they won’t amount to anything in life? What is the point of encouraging students to “be the best they can be” when they think their best will never be good enough?

What is the point?

There is nothing wrong with STEM labs and career days and pushing students. Before we can do that, however, first we must convince students that they have value.

Change the Conversation: A Focus on Positives

“Jack, you seem like someone who gets the details right and are passionate about learning everything there is to know about how to play soccer better – and I think that is fantastic.”

Students need to hear affirmation. Not only do they need to hear that they are valuable, but they need to hear why they specifically have and bring value to others.

It’s a simple thing – and it takes time. But it pays dividends. I have watched students transform over the course of months when educators, leaders, and mentors speak life into them. I have seen them start to see themselves as people with something to give the world. They come alive. They transform.

So how do we do it? Here are just four ideas:

 

Here are 4 easy ways to help students feel their value:

1. Turn a Weakness into a Strength:


I once met a student who loved anime – but he felt awkward talking about it. It felt uncool. So I flipped the script on him. I talked about how watching anime was exposing him to Japanese culture and helping form an international perspective. I turned what he thought was a weakness into a strength no one else in the room possessed.

2. Push an Opportunity:

One of the students I knew well was complaining that he had to find a summer job. He goes to camps frequently, and didn’t know how he could find a job that would fit his schedule. So I pushed an opportunity on him and led with a strength. “Blake, have you thought about teaching English online? It’s really flexible hours, you can do it from home, and I feel like you would be great working with kids who are trying to learn English. You are a naturally patient guy.” It doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t do it. He heard affirmation.

                                        3. Challenge Them:


Sometimes I run into students who seem defeated. They have thrown in the towel, and given up on being a leader, or an engineer, or friendly – fill in the blank. They are stuck in an unhealthy self-pity cycle. Push back against these students. “I’m going to challenge you on that. You think you’re not an influence, but I see students every day follow you around and model your behavior. What do you call that?”

This only works with some students – but when it works, it is an effective wake up call.

4. Put Up Circles:

I saw this for the first time at a school recently, and I love the concept. It’s the reverse of a “put down”. You circle up the classroom, the group, or even the whole school. Students and teachers give call outs to each other for specific things they did that week that were great and helped the community.

Not every school will have the time to fit this into their schedule. But even if you do this as just an individual teacher, it can set a cultural tone of, “You have worth. You have value.”

This is why my favorite part of my job is when I am in front of students, especially ones I get to see consistently. I get to play a small role in seeing this transformation happen. It’s powerful.

Indigo transforms schools and districts. That’s part of the vision. We work at the administrator, faculty and student levels. On the ground with students, however, we are helping fight a much grittier battle. We are fighting to get students to acknowledge their own worth. We are fighting to get students to love themselves.


It’s hard work. But it’s the basis of any meaningful change we can make happen in a school.

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