Testing 29% of a person’s potential is a failing grade

There is much wrong with our current system of public education. Many of us are innumerate and have a primitive knowledge of basic finance. Contrast this to the fact many graduates of our schools have received mediocre grades yet have gone on to change the world. What gives?

Most students are evaluated on only two of the seven ways they learn, or 29% of their potential. Multiple choice tests cover only linguistic and logical/mathematical styles. This is why the great artist will often score poorly, which underestimates their abilities and potential. Excluding 71% of other forms of intelligence from these tests explains the divergence between test scores and successful careers outside the classroom. The current system vastly underserves the creative and most resourceful amongst us, while giving inflated egos and a sense of entitlement to those skilled in this lopsided assessment.

Our current system was created over 100 years ago. At the time, people were being trained to work in an assembly line factory system. Thinking outside the box was not required. A quick way to assess students in our newly created public school system was needed. Multiple choice exams were the antidote for our early twentieth century needs. Though times have changed, these types of exams have become dangerously more and more relied upon, in spite of their gross inefficiencies.

I just completed and passed the CFP exam. Becoming a Certified Financial Planner is an arduous process which culminates in an exam of 175 multiple choice questions. Candidates must become immersed in all parts of personal finance, which is not an easy task. My problem with the process is not with its difficulty or the breadth of the subject matter, but with the way the applicants are assessed. In order to pass, one must correctly answer about 70% of 170 multiple choice questions in a six-hour time frame. This reinforces stamina and resilience, but in many ways leaves out other important attributes for an advisor to thrive.

Being a teacher for over 20 years taught me many things. Test-taking strategies are skills on their own and can be taught. While this can lead to a successful grade and temporary advantages, life skills and emotional intelligence are the real tickets to making a difference. Who came up with idea that sitting in a room for several hours, not being allowed to talk to anyone, or look up information and being completely quiet remotely resembles conditions found in any workplace? I do not fault the CFP board because there are many advantages to giving this test in its current form. I just think there is a better way that would be a tremendous service to adults and children alike.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University identified seven different ways people learn. For example, most people are visual learners; i.e., pictures, and not words, are the best way to convey ideas. Most standardized tests include very little that is graphical in nature, much to the disservice of the test taker. I have come up with a plan that I believe is more fair and balanced for all. Here is my prototype for the CFP. This format could easily be substituted for many other certification type tests.

1. Part 1-Visual Spatial Learning. Have applicants create charts and graphs from case studies to visually convey answers. This would reinforce the need to show clients’ data in images. This is the way many clients learn. The more the client understands, the better chance of success for the plan and the more validity of the test to determine competent advisors.
2. Part 2- Bodily Kinesthetic Learning. This involves physical activity to convey knowledge. Role Playing, Active listening and open end questioning would be the skills assessed. Empathy and being non-judgmental are very important attributes of a successful advisor. These skills are invaluable for gaining clients’ trust. This part of the exam would involve speaking and not silence. A data gathering goal setting session could be simulated and graded.
3. Part 3-Interpersonal. This involves interacting with others in a cooperative setting. CPAs and Estate Planners could be brought in and the applicant could be judged on interaction with them. Pre-arranged questions on relevant topics would be included in the meeting. An assessment could be based on content and the ability to communicate ideas to other professionals. This could include both written and verbal sections.
4. Part 4- Intrapersonal. This involves one’s interests and goals. Creativity is a big component. Have an applicant create blog posts or other digital media appropriate content. Many clients receive their information in this manner. Why not assess applicants in the way their customers wish to receive information? The applicant would have a certain time frame to complete this and it would be graded on factual accuracy, usability, and clarity.
5. Parts 5 and 6. – Linguistic and Mathematical. This would include the traditional multiple choice component. The difference would be this would only be 29% of the exam rather than 100%. So figure about 50 multiple choice questions which could stay in its current form.
7. Part 6. Musical. I am not sure about this and need your suggestions. The idea of middle-aged white men rapping is too disturbing for me to contemplate. A possible idea is to a play a recording and have the applicant take notes and analyze a financial scenario. Listening skills are imperative for a good advisor.
This is only a start. Many details need to be filled in. In today’s algorithm-based techno-centric world, this should not be a major problem. A portfolio assessment based on many components would go a long way toward motivating and fairly assessing students. It might even explain why some of today’s greatest thought leaders were C students in high school and college. Just like a portfolio, an assessment of an individual’s ability to excel in a certain future task should include all of the components that comprise the ways we all process information. We should be preparing people to work for companies like Google, not to be an interchangeable part in Henry Ford’s assembly line.

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