Review of "Beyond Measure": Film Screening on Education Reform

October 22, 2015

I was fortunate to attend a screening of Beyond Measure at John Witherspoon Middle School on October 20, at an event sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and Princeton Public Schools. 

The premise is this: “Rather than ask why our students fail to measure up, this film asks us to reconsider the greater purpose of education. What if our education system valued personal growth over test scores? Put inquiry over mimicry? Encouraged passion over rankings?”

The film’s creators seem to be on to something. According to a report issued by the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education and presented at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Education:

“Over the past two decades, our country has been trying to build a standards-based accountability system as a foundation for a more equitable and higher-achieving education system. In practice, however, we have created a test-based accountability system that does not reflect the standards we aimed for at the beginning of the 1990s, much less today’s fewer, clearer, higher Common Core Standards.

Several studies, using several different methodologies, have shown that the state tests do not measure the higher-order thinking, problem solving, and creativity needed for students to succeed in the 21st century. These tests, with only a few exceptions, systematically over represent basic skills and knowledge and omit the complex knowledge and reasoning we are seeking for college and career readiness.”

In Beyond Measure, we learn about schools leading the charge in education reform. In Kentucky, Trigg County High School has incorporated project-based learning into its curriculum. At Monument Mountain Regional High School, student Sam Levin designed a school-within-the-school where students would feel fully engaged, have an opportunity to develop expertise in something, and learn how to learn. At Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, the focus is on teamwork, creativity and courage. That’s right, courage. Richard K. Miller, president of the school, says, “I don’t see how you can make a positive difference in the world … if you’re not motivated to take a tough stand and do the right thing.”

I feel so fortunate that the Waldorf School of Princeton’s curriculum (and Waldorf curricula the world over) has always promoted these values: personal growth over test scores, putting inquiry over mimicry, and encouraging passion over rankings. One example of this is what the Waldorf teachers call the “harnessing of the will.” The students here refine their learning of this concept over their years at the school until they emerge at the end of eighth grade resilient, dauntless, and persistent. They’re not afraid of a challenge, or of failing. They’ve learned to trust their abilities, and their inner strength. They know they have the strength to prevail, and that they’ll be stronger for it. Waldorf even has a festival that celebrates these qualities—Michaelmas—through physical challenges and encounters.

Looking beyond eighth grade, I’m concerned for my son, who is not a traditional learner. He’ll begin ninth grade at Princeton High School, a school known for its competitiveness and high student test scores. But I take great heart that Princeton’s new Superintendent of Public Schools, Steve Cochrane, is on the right track. At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Princeton Public Schools revised its mission statement to “prepare all of our students to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative, and compassionate citizens of a global society.”   The school district also co-sponsored the screening of Beyond Measure. This looks like it could be the beginning of something truly transformational, and I’m filled with hope for my son, our children, and this community.

Let’s do this, Princeton.