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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Hanging with the Timberwolves

Hanging with the Timberwolves

November 5th 2015, Written by Nathan Robertson


It’s hard not to like Pinnacle High School. We started working with 200 Pinnacle juniors and seniors right in the heart of spirit week; somewhere between watching four very public ask-the-girl-out-to-homecoming stunts in the cafeteria and having the Timber Wolf mascot itself come into our workshop, we knew we were going to have fun at Pinnacle.

What really draws us into Pinnacle are the stories we heard from students who stayed after our workshops to talk with us. Everything from one junior deciding he was dead set on pursuing culinary school, to a senior who recommitted herself to finding a career in the outdoors so that she wouldn’t get stuck in a desk job. While Indigo is all about scaling this mission to reach hundreds of thousand of students, we still get amped up by these individual stories.

What’s next for us and Pinnacle? They’ve already started using version 1.0 of our curriculum with students, and we’re looking ahead to see how we can integrate our Indigo Advisement Plan into their required ICAPs. One thing is for certain– you haven’t seen the last of us, Timberwolves!

P.S. A big thanks to our sponsors at KIND Bars– I think it’s safe to say the students are enjoying the snacks 🙂

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Indigo Points High School Seniors to College Fits

Indigo Points High School Seniors to College Fits

February 26th 2015, Written by Marie Campbell


“Have any of you ever been told you should be something?” Heather Clark of the Indigo Education Company asked a room of 12th grade students. The group responded with a resounding “Yes!”

As part of a large-scale implementation funded by the Colorado Department of Education, the Indigo Education Company conducted an all-day training for high school Seniors this Monday at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, CO. The students had already completed their Indigo Assessments online, and Monday’s training walked them through the major sections of their Indigo Reports.

Clark, one of four Indigo trainers, asked students to share expectations other people may have placed on them. Students shouted their responses:

“I should be less lazy!”

“I should be quieter.”

“I should be a lawyer.”

Clark encouraged students to write a list of “shoulds” imposed on them by society, parents, teachers, etc. Then she pointed students to their Indigo results. “These pages have the puzzle pieces of you who are, how you think, how you interact with people, and your top skills. At Indigo, we’re here to tell you that the only thing you should be is … yourself!”

Clark divided students into six groups based on their top Motivators, as measured by the Indigo Assessment. Students discussed how their Motivators could affect their choice of college major. Next, Clark divided students according to their DISC scores, which explain the four major Behavioral Styles: Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliance/Conscientiousness. Students were encouraged to seek college professors who would support their unique methods of communicating. For instance, students scoring high on the Influencing scale tend to be talkative, optimistic, and friendly.

“Does this describe you?” Clark asked a group of high-I students.

They responded with laughter. “Not at all,” one girl joked.

In general, Influencers need to process ideas through other people and tend to be highly social. The Indigo team urged these high-I students to find college professors who prioritize class discussions and encourage verbal responses.

“In college, it’s like you have a super power,” Rachel Thor, Indigo Curriculum Designer and Workshop Trainer, told students. “You get to pick which classes and professors fit you best.” Many students expressed surprise; they hadn’t realized they could choose professors that teach to their unique learning styles.

Throughout the day, Indigo members stressed the idea that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when it comes to your personality blueprint. All temperament types can have an impact when they work from their strengths. At the end of each training, Clark asked students to write a new list of “shoulds” for themselves—“But this time,” she said, “make sure your ‘shoulds’ fit who you truly are.”

A student scoring high in the Aesthetic Motivator wrote, “I should spend more time in nature.” A passionate Theoretical—motivated by knowledge and truth—added that she “should continue to learn new things.”

One Peak to Peak Senior, Zacahary Nix, expressed his gratitude for the Indigo Assessment: “It’s helping me communicate with my classmates on a deeper level,” he said excitedly. Zach explained that he has been paying attention to his classmates’ Indigo Reports and discovering how they may think or communicate differently than he does.

Indigo will continue working with Peak to Peak in the months to come, helping students and teachers incorporate who they really are into all aspects of their education. To learn more about Indigo’s work with high schools and colleges around the nation, click here.

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Charter School Awarded Grant for Suicide Prevention

Charter School Awarded Grant for Suicide Prevention

January 22nd 2015, Written by Marie Campbell


Peak to Peak High School partners with The Indigo Project, iTHRIVE, and safeTALK to implement school-wide student empowerment program 

A grant provided by the Colorado Department of Education has been awarded to Peak to Peak Charter High School for the purpose of improving students’ social-emotional wellbeing. The grant money will provide data from The Indigo Education Company, including assessment tools, school-wide trainings, and detailed curriculum changes, to increase the overall effectiveness of School Health Professionals (SHP), specifically in the areas of substance abuse and suicide prevention. The program will be a combined effort of Peak to Peak, The Indigo Education Company, and two local partners specializing in substance abuse and suicide prevention: iTHRIVE and ASIST/safeTALK (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training/Suicide Alertness for Everyone).

Ranked as the #1 public school in Colorado and top 100 in the nation, Peak to Peak High School is aggressive in implementing innovative approaches to social-emotional health.  With this grant, Peak to Peak looks forward to benefitting the entire student body rather than focusing solely on students currently considered at-risk. “Prevention is the key,” says lead guidance counselor Kimberly Gannett. “We believe that integrating positive mental health messages and self awareness into everything we do will increase the overall social-emotional health of every student.” To address the issues of substance abuse and suicide awareness/prevention, administrators are incorporating the Indigo Assessment’s data report into preexisting 9th through 12th grade curriculum. The goal is to better understand the current state of the student body and to encourage students to talk about themselves and the problems they face. Assistant Principal and 9th grade English teacher at Peak to Peak, Clara Quinlan, has already seen positive results. She says, “Many of my freshmen reported feeling empowered and understood for the first time. They often use the language from this tool as they learn to self-advocate and set reasonable and attainable goals. I now consider the Indigo Assessment an indispensable tool in my curriculum.”

From January through May of 2015, the Indigo Education Company will provide Peak to Peak with student data analytics reflecting social-emotional trends school-wide and highlighting at-risk students. Indigo will also track growth patterns of key, non-academic indicators such as resiliency, self-esteem, and sense of belonging, measuring the effectiveness of new curriculum. Principal of Peak to Peak Kyle Matthews says, “We are looking forward to using this information to better train our staff. Knowing how students think about stress, substance abuse, and suicide, we can build systems that stem challenges before they arise.”

Indigo’s data-collection tool (the Indigo Assessment) and accompanying algorithms were created by Target Training International (TTI), a leader in assessment technologies worldwide. TTI has been applying brain and social science to the corporate world for over 30 years, analyzing top leaders of fortune 500 companies in 90 countries and 40 languages. Today, their methods extend to the education system through the efforts of Indigo Education Company. One of the four sciences applied in the Indigo Assessment has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not the first time Peak to Peak has teamed up with Indigo. Looking back on smaller pilot implementations from 2013 and 2014, Matthews states, “Using Indigo has transformed how we see and work with our students.  While we have always focused on supporting students’ passions and areas of strength, Indigo provides deep insights into how students communicate and thrive in a given learning environment.  As a result, our students, families and staff are finally speaking the same language about learning needs and maximizing academic and social-emotional connections in our community.”

About the Indigo Education Company

The Indigo Education Company is committed to promoting college and career preparedness in high schools nationwide, through the integration of 21st century soft skills. Indigo provides personalized research and data analysis, comprehensive trainings, and long-term curriculum development to ensure students are equipped for success in college and beyond. Indigo believes strongly in the potential of every student, seeking to guide them into college and career paths aligning with their natural strengths. The Indigo Foundation, a Colorado 501c and affiliate of the Indigo Education Company, is actively involved with implementations for schools and students in need.  To learn more, visit www.IndigoProject.org.

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Peak to Peak Juniors Learn to Follow Their Passions

Peak to Peak Juniors Learn to Follow Their Passions

February 13th 2015, Written by Marie Campbell


 

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Instead, ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, CO recently administered the Indigo Assessment to all high school students and faculty. Early this week, Indigo staff led an all-day workshop for 11th grade students, using individual Assessment results to help guide students into college programs well suited to their unique passions and learning styles.

“When have you felt most alive?” Rachel Thor, Indigo team member in charge of curriculum development, asked every 11th grade class. This question forms the core of Indigo’s mission and serves as a guiding light for students heading toward adulthood. Thor asked students to consider a moment in their lives when they felt completely alive and full of energy. The Indigo Assessment, she explained, is a way to “unpack the reasons behind what made that moment so special to you” and apply that knowledge to life.

At Peak to Peak, 11th grade is the age when students begin the college application process. For many, this is a daunting step. Thor asked one class of nine students, “How many of you think this whole college application thing is a breeze, and you’re not stressed about it at all? Raise your hands.” No one responded; the room was still. Thor smiled. “And how many of you are nervous?” Tentative hands went up.

Thor explained that, while many students fear the application process, college offers a remarkable opportunity to personalize education. “You get to choose how, what, and where you want to learn. All you need to know is: what matters most to you, and how do you learn best?” That’s where the Indigo Assessment comes in. Thor walked students step by step through their Assessment results, explaining their unique Behavioral Styles, Motivators, and Personal Skills.

One student, Bradley, shows high scores in the Individualistic and Utilitarian motivators, which means that he seeks to have control over his destiny and desires a return on investments. Thor asked him to share a moment of aliveness, and he started to laugh. “Starting a business with my friends and investing in the stock market,” Bradley answered. A female classmate chimed in with her assessment of Bradley: “It’s like, exactly right!”

Jahla Seppanen, Indigo Communications Manager, encouraged Bradley to “ask colleges, when you go to interviews, how many of their graduates get jobs.” For a passionate Utilitarian, “You want to make sure that the degree you get is going to be worth the money.”

Another female classmate has a high Influencing score for her Behavioral Style. High “I”s tend to be outgoing and people-oriented. This Peak to Peak Junior confirmed, “I’m always the one taking charge and talking.” Indigo members encouraged her to seek a community-oriented university where professors promote group discussion.

Throughout each workshop, Thor stressed the fact that, with the Assessment, there are no right or wrong answers. “This is the blueprint of who you are, and the world needs all of these people in different places.” Peak to Peak will continue to integrate Indigo with existing curricula, contributing to school-wide student empowerment and guiding students toward a life of fulfillment.

The Indigo Education Company is currently working with six high schools to help integrate customized non-academic data with existing academic curricula. To learn more, click here.

 

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Teachers Learn to Adapt to Student Strengths

Teachers Learn to Adapt to Student Strengths

February 6th 2015, Written by Marie Campbell


Thanks to a recent grant, Peak to Peak high school in Lafayette has now administered the Indigo Assessment to all students and faculty. In order to begin integrating Indigo’s data with day-to-day classes, 25 teachers gathered Friday morning to learn what the Assessment means for their students. Sheri Smith, founder and CEO of Indigo, led the training session.

“Indigo focuses on strengths,” Smith told teachers. “You want to be in an environment where you are most natural.” For high school students considering college and career, that means choosing a path that fits their behavioral styles and feeds their innate motivators. For educators, that means tailoring any given classroom to appeal to the unique learning styles of their students.

Smith walked teachers step-by-step through their own Assessment results, describing each of the four behavioral styles: Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliance (DISC). Across the board, students and faculty at Peak to Peak rank high in Influencing (positivity/enthusiasm) and Steadiness (stability/reliability).

As Smith was explaining the six motivators that drive students to learn, one teacher raised her hand. Carolyn Mckee, a science teacher, wanted to know how this information could apply to teachers as well as students. “I see how understanding my students’ motivators can help me reach them, but what about with my colleagues?” Mckee inquired. “Would this help me understand them?” The answer was an immediate “Yes!”

Smith affirmed that understanding how those around you see the world helps anyone interact successfully and harmoniously, whether students or faculty.

To illustrate, Smith asked teachers with high Steadiness scores to raise their hands. Nearly all Peak to Peak teachers responded. Then, Smith asked if anyone scored high in Dominance. Only a few responded. Smith encouraged the dominant personalities—the movers and shakers—to be respectful of the steady folk who don’t respond well to change. “Don’t make changes overnight! High ‘steady’s won’t be too happy!” The room rippled with laughter; heads nodded. They had experienced this confrontation before.

Smith then asked teachers to consider the different behavioral styles of their students. “What are some ways you can adjust your teaching styles to fit students whose styles might be opposite of yours?” Josh Benson, a teacher of multiple subjects at Peak to Peak including Literature and Composition, offered an example.

Benson has a relaxed teaching style, but in order to reach students with high Compliance scores (those who need structure and care about rules), he wants to provide stability. “I need to be good about posting assignments on the website,” Benson said, “because [students with high Compliance] need to know [. . .] what’s going to happen three weeks from now.”

When it comes to successful communication, respect is key. Indigo is founded on the idea that no one behavioral style is better or worse than any other; students simply need to know how to work from their strengths. “You’re not trying to change your kids,” Smith asserted. “You’re trying to see the world through their lens.” As students and teachers learn to adapt to one another’s varied styles, Peak to Peak hopes to increase student learning and foster a cooperative school environment.

Indigo is currently working with six high schools to help integrate non-academic data with existing academic curricula.

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Parent Workshop at Peak to Peak High School

Personalizing School Culture Causes Radical Transformation

March 14th 2015, Written by Sheri Smith


Indigo is hosting a student/parent workshop at Peak to Peak High School this Tuesday night, December 2nd.  This workshop, will feature the following:

  • In-depth analysis of the Indigo Report and how you can use it for college/career path decisions.
  • Parent/Student Communication Tips and Practice
  • Personalized analysis of your report
  • Walk away with a specific action plan and goals of how to leverage the information in the Indigo for success
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