Erik Torenberg / Uncategorized

More Than a Bullet Point (Erik Torrenberg)

You are more than your GPA; you’re more than your test scores; and you’re more than your résumé. You have beliefs: convictions that guided your past decisions and shall guide your future ones. You’ve had experiences: work, travel, volunteer; you have a portfolio that demonstrates your talents and capabilities. And, above all, you have a story — how you became you, what you’ve done and where you want to go — that can’t be captured from a bullet point.

So, when prospective recruiters evaluate students solely on their bullet points, they aren’t performing due diligence.

A high GPA demonstrates that a student can perform any activity at a high level; they’ve likely mastered test-preparation, writing a stellar 5-paragraph essay and, generally, satisfying the evaluator. These are valuable skills, to be sure, but there are other valuable skills that aren’t manifested from a GPA. What about your character — grit? What about your initiative? In other words, can you pursue your own project and persevere without constant feedback? And then there are the intangibles; prospective recruiters should want to know how creative, fun and socially intelligent you are, no? Or how loyal, how respectful and how team-oriented you are, right? In the bullet-point model, though, such valuable information falls through the cracks. And although employers and colleges know this — that they covet skills undetectable on a GPA and résumé — their proposed remedy, the job interview, falls short; students still game the system by memorizing answers to often-asked questions. Such a contrived, short interaction fails to paint an adequate picture of a person.

This narrow emphasis on résumés, then, results in an inefficient market. The poor test takers — which are often the creative, entrepreneurial and super curious types — get shafted in the job search and college application processes.

So what? The problems above, some might say, are minor drawbacks when compared to the résumé’s strengths — namely, convenience and practicality. And an evaluation system, after all, is never perfect. So why should we care to improve it?

Here’s an even more important reason: Students tend to excessively concentrate on that in which they are evaluated, and, in today’s hyper competitive world, that’s true now more than ever. As a result, students focus almost exclusively on their GPA and résumé; and it’s well known that those two things aren’t always — or even regularly — synonymous with learning. Ideally, GPA would align with what’s best for students — that’s when teaching to the test works like a charm — but, unfortunately, too often it  just doesn’t.

Consider when students take easy classes to bolster their GPA; or when they solely care what’s on the test, even though they’ll forget it minutes afterwards. Or when they accept name brand internships, no matter what type of work they’ll do; or when they engage in extra curricular activities merely for the leadership recognition, even if they aren’t motivated or benefiting personally. Such a careerist approach prevents students from wandering, exploring and experimenting, which, if they don’t do now, between ages 18-22 — then when? Commitment is valuable, true and a good practice to develop, sure, but young adulthood is the time, especially in college, to experiment and discover which endeavors are worth committing to in the first place.

These endeavors end up shaping you. Your personal projects culminate in discovering your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes. In today’s world, the résumé gods — those who lack, curiosity, creativity, and personal conviction — will have neither the abilities nor the drive to solve our common problems — let alone their own. They will consistently chase approval until they receive it from everyone but themselves. Aim to get great grades, sure, but don’t do so at the expense of your own personal growth. Try to synchronize those objectives as much as possible.

Shifting how we evaluate students, however, is the job of educators. A recent article in GOOD Magazine, by Education Correspondent Liz Dwyer concurred, noting the importance of more holistic evaluations.

“Many educators are looking to take a more holistic approach to figuring out what students really know and can do. That often means using portfolios, a purposeful collection of a student’s best work, to assess the way students demonstrate proficiency in a subject.”

That means avenues that enable you to share your portfolio: your beliefs, your experiences, your skill-sets — in effect, your stories, will become increasingly more important.

This conversation is, in the end, not just about making the market more efficient. It’s about how we evaluate human worth and how we reshape the incentives to promote a more holistic type of development — one that can’t be captured in a bullet point. Undoubtedly, a résumé presents valuable, necessary information, but, on it’s own, it’s incomplete.

You are more than a bullet point — that is, of course, unless you only care about your bullet points.

Why, then, do we continue to evaluate talent by these statistics which only reward one type of learner and reveal only a fraction of who we are?

Because, I presume, it’s convenient. A standard number given by a standard test is to continue the easy way. This could be mere laziness, it could be practicality, it could be a bit of both; I couldn’t tell you. All I can say is that, for the reasons mentioned above, it’s worth contemplating a change.

There are a couple ways to approach this problem. One method is to acknowledge the limits of statistical evaluations — and eliminate the use of them entirely. We have a unique obsession with trying to “rank” everything, and, while it may work in sports when the objective is so clear cut (win the game), it won’t work as easily in schools because evaluating progress for education’s objectives — the students’ development — is more difficult, if not impossible, to measure. There are too many variables that come into play when developing “life-long learning.” As a result, evaluations should be conducted, not by measly numbers, but by seasoned veterans who instinctively know which attributes to look for.

The second option is to go in the opposite direction. Opponents of statistical evaluations claim that you can’t quantify a teacher’s love, or her effects over time, or the quality of a students’ character. Other schools, however, think differently. A piece in The New York Times Magazine references the Riverdale Country School, which incorporates “character” evaluations into a GPA. These included a combination of subjective descriptions and objective test-taking. At the least, they’re displaying the importance of character growth — so students are acting accordingly, and so it seems, that these habits will be ingrained.

This is not unlike what happened in baseball, as portrayed in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball. The seasoned veterans made a plethora of poor judgments in evaluating players, but they didn’t trust the statistics. The problem, though, wasn’t the use of statistics; it was merely the poor use of statistics!

A nice middle ground could work — a combination of subjective and statistical evaluations — similar to what they’re doing in Riverdale. This is vastly important, because isn’t only about altering how we evaluate students. Indeed, it’s also about reincenvitizing students to strive for a holistic and humanistic education.

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