I am a career educator, currently in year 42 as this is written, who is not buying in to the COVID slide.

Our kids are only falling behind on a scale that adults are defining for them – a scale determined by these scores and achievement measures that were designed decades ago to sort kids by their potential future impacts on the economy.

Kids are falling behind only if we choose to measure them on scales that have been broken for decades, and we refuse to change them, even during a pandemic.

Dr. William Daggett, President of the International Center for Leadership in Education, states that the most rapidly improving schools ask themselves three important questions.

1. What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?

2. What must our students need to do to succeed in the world beyond school?

3. What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school? Not just after graduation, but tomorrow?

I have written several times that the first job title a graduate will have is “employee.” Employers continuously train employees in the technical skills needed to perform their tasks.

I believe we should focus more on the “soft skills,” or “work ethic traits” that employers tell us they look for in employees. The remote learning environment we are in is the ideal laboratory for us to make the transition from assessments of outcomes as measures of successful schools to assessments of process as measures of successful schools.

I am not saying that we ignore assessing for the right answers. I am saying that too many of the right answers can be found with a simple search, a smart speaker, or photo math. A conversation about authentic assessments, and relevance of lessons is for another time.

Can we effectively and objectively teach and assess the soft skills and work ethic traits? Yes! Been there, done that, have a t-shirt from a school which does it.

All of us share the common vision of creating lifelong learners, yet we feel trapped by high stakes assessments designed to measure short-term goals. I have found that by focusing our efforts on the soft skills required in the workplace, meeting our short-term goals took care of itself.

Our kids aren’t falling behind, they are adapting. They are learning new skills They are overcoming. They are surviving a pandemic that has shaken their world before they even understand it.

I will not try to talk I about the jobs our graduates will fill, many of them haven’t been created yet. So let’s concede that we don’t have a strong grasp of the technical skills needed to fill them. But I am fairly certain that assessments of skills that have not changed significantly during my tenure in the profession are probably not the best predictors of how well prepared our kids are to enter into the world of careers.

It isn’t about what is wrong with our schools this year, it’s about what has happened to them this year. We owe it to ourselves, and to our students, to spend more time shooting at the rim and less time shooting at the scoreboard.

A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions. I am not worried about the COVID slide with our kids. I am worried that our schools will slide back to what they were in March, 2020. And we will have wasted this opportunity to transition ourselves to better meet the needs of our kids and our communities.

And so it goes…