Ann Cronin is an educator in Connecticut.

In this post, she explains what real achievement is, and it has nothing to do with test scores.

There are all kinds of suggestions for improving student achievement – privatize public schools, increase the number of standardized tests that students take, implement national standards, and enforce no-excuses classroom discipline. None of these practices, however, have made a bit of difference. That is for two reasons. One reason is that the underlying causes of poverty and racial injustice have gone unaddressed, and the other reason is that standardized test scores can never measure achievement and, instead, reliably indicate only one thing: the income of the parents of the test taker.

So the first step in increasing student achievement is to redefine what we mean by achievement.  I recently witnessed something that crystallized for me what real achievement is.

She recently attended a ceremony in her community where high school seniors and adults were honored for community service.

When it was time for the second adult recipient, Roseanne Sapula, to give her speech, she spoke about how honored she was to receive the award she regarded as prestigious and how she had tried to write a speech but gave up. It was clear that she gave up because her volunteer work with the Monday Night Social Group, a group comprised of 40 special needs individuals of high school age and older, was so close to her heart that it was hard for her to explain her interactions with those in the group in a short speech. She did tell the audience that thinking up new adventures for those young adults and new ways for them to be part of the larger community was her “calling”.

As Roseanne was talking, she looked out in the audience and spotted one of the members of the Monday Night Social Group, Jacob, Fialkoff, a 20 year-old whom I later learned has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. She called out to him and asked him a favor. She explained to the audience that Jacob is scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the Connecticut Special Olympics and that he has a beautiful voice. She asked Jacob if he would sing it right there for all of us.

Jacob hesitated, probably feeling unprepared and that it was too much of a challenge at that moment. Roseanne, aware of his hesitation, asked him again, telling him that she would not be at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics and would love to hear him sing the National Anthem. He still hesitated. Roseanne then asked him if he could do it just for her. He softly said OK.

He sang beautifully.

Jacob’s singing the National Anthem, unrehearsed and on the spot out of love for the person who asked him, is what is missing in the conversation about increasing student achievement, which has been the illusive national goal since the passing of “No Child Left Behind” in 2001. We have tested and prepared kids for tests. And achievement doesn’t budge. We have declared that urban schools are “failing schools” and opened charter schools.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We have put in place Common Core standards.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We suspend and expel students at high rates, particularly in charter schools. And achievement doesn’t budge. That’s because we have been looking in the wrong places for achievement. We have been looking at standardized tests.

What a narrow definition of achievement has ruled our nation since 2001, and even earlier.