The Stone Independent School
Education is not preparation for life -- education is life itself.
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Notes From Stone

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A Note On the Recent College Admissions Scandal

Stone Parents, Faculty, and Community,

Tuesday afternoon at 4:09pm Susan Gottlieb, five extraordinary Stone students, and I pulled a filthy Dodge Caravan into the Stone parking lot -- completing a 13 day, 7700 mile trek across this amazing country.  Over those 13 days we crossed through 25 states and visited enormous cities (New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit) as well as towns with populations of fewer than 100; over those 13 days our students photographed, sketched, podcasted, and blogged about America (if you are interested, see the Beat Blog here); over those 13 days our students listened to 100 hours worth of playlists representing the history of American music, they practiced tai-chi, they read Beat literature to each other every morning and every evening; over those 13 days our students were profound, engaged, curious, compassionate, and really funny.  They quite literally lived out of that filthy Dodge Caravan and a string of Motel 6s for two weeks -- never once did they utter anything even approaching a complaint; on the last night of the trip our student body president Tony Astarita said something to the effect of, “I’ve never been more proud of our country.”

All of which is to say: it was an amazing trip.  As Susan puts it, it was a “peak” experience.

As contrast, as I emerged Tuesday afternoon from a (really wonderful) 13 day media blackout, my social media feed was exploding with news of this most recent college admissions scandal.  Here I will share with you that my only real surprise is that anyone is surprised by it -- the college admissions process is profoundly flawed, the SAT and the College Board is profoundly flawed, high-stakes testing in any form rarely correlates to anything other than socio-economic privilege.  There is so much to unpack from this recent scandal (and this is all before we look at athletic recruiting, the historic corruption of the NCAA, etc etc), but I will tell you that this scandal serves as both the smallest tip of the iceberg and also a loud and obvious monument to the disservice we are doing to learning in America.

In the last year we have seen hundreds upon hundreds of schools join the Mastery Transcript Coalition, the eight most powerful schools in Washington DC have dropped the AP, and more and more colleges are dropping the SAT as a requirement. This summer I asked our parents to read a book called “The End of Average“ by Todd Rose, in which Rose make an argument that seems both self evident and yet highly complex — that good assessment is what’s called “jagged“ assessment, that GPAs don’t measure much, that testing doesn’t measure much, that for us to really evaluate each other we need to evaluate across a multitude of categories admit that growth is non-linear, that growth is highly “jagged“.

And by the way – that’s true in schools, it’s true in the military, it’s true at Google, it’s true everywhere.  Broad, multi-faceted, non-linear assessment beats high-stakes testing every single time.

Put another way: high-stakes testing incentivizes cheating, high-stakes testing harms students, high-stakes testing negatively impacts learning, and that’s about all that high-stakes testing is good for.

I just spent 13 days in a van with five of the most extraordinary students I’ve ever worked with and over and over again I found myself wondering: what would a grade mean in this context?  What in the world would a test do to support/inform/deepen this learning?  Every day at Stone our students partner with our amazing faculty to design, build, and make incredibly complex work -- and none of our students have ever taken a test in our building. They’ve built small businesses and 20 foot trebuchets and linear air tracks and clinostats and aquaponic systems and ancient Mayan ovens -- they read with depth, they write and research thoughtfully, they care about their work and they care about each other.

And somehow they are all willing to do it without ever taking a test.

For now, the SAT remains a largely unavoidable entity in our universe and because it is we would do our students incredible harm if we weren’t certain to align our curriculum to the skills embedded in the SAT and thanks to Abby Kirchner our students are prepared for college entrance exams, our students assemble remarkable college applications, and -- more importantly -- our students are actually prepared for the kind of work demanded of them in college.  We’re only 18 months old, but despite our youth and our refusal to believe in “testing”, Stone students continue to receive college acceptance letters and continue to receive significant merit scholarship offers.

Which, by the way, is pretty amazing.  

Yesterday, a writer from the New Yorker spent her morning at Stone profiling one of our students and she told me she wished she could have attended Stone; two nights ago 5 students returned from a Spring Break spent traveling America; all year our students and our faculty have committed themselves to significant and meaningful work.  We are building something extraordinary here at the Stone Independent School, we are building something necessary, too. Assessment is broken in America and the college admissions process has once again revealed itself to be corrupt -- sitting here at my desk, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to each of you for your support, your hard-work, and your vision: there is urgency and necessity to the work we are doing, and we will continue to push Stone to the forefront of this critical conversation about what school should really be.

With so much more than thanks,


Mike Simpson