Keith Nemlich

The Measurable and Unmeasurable

Welcome to another school year! If you are like me, you are busy predicting all of the exciting possibilities that await your child this year. As we move into this year together, I want you to think about two aspects of education that often get overlooked. The first has to do with measurable learning. The effectiveness of a school is typically measured in the academic growth of its students. No doubt that this a primary focus for administrators, teachers, and students, alike. For example, we all want to see each child increase their skills and confidence in mathematics. This is something that can be measured and reported with a high degree of accuracy. However there is a sizable set of skills and dispositions that we would like to see developed throughout the year. Here’s a brief list of some of these critical qualities:

Persistence Curiosity Enthusiasm Leadership
Creativity Civic-mindfulness Resourcefulness Self-discipline
Sense of wonder Big picture thinking Compassion Reliabiity
Motivation Humor Empathy Sense of beauty
Humility Resilience


Notice that these are all elements that are extremely difficult to assess. Could we test for humor? Just because these are challenging to measure does not mean that they are not worth our time and effort. Show this list to your employer and they will ask where they can find a job candidate with a high level of these qualities. As the year progresses, be on the lookout for these qualities in your child and note any increases. Does your child display greater curiosity? Greater resilience? All of this speaks to the development of the student and should not be taken lightly. 

The second point I want you to think about through the year is the fact that learning is not a linear process. When successive assessments are recorded and graphed, we have a natural tendency to look for evidence of continuous steady and predictable growth. We want to see that trend line go up straight. And while we all hope to see that, the fact is that we tend to learn in clumps. A new concept stalls our progress and then at some point in the future, we grasp the idea. For example, imagine the young child learning to count. They learn one to ten and practice. Then they learn ten to twenty. But when they are able to extend the pattern and grasp the base-ten nature of our number system, counting to one hundred and beyond opens right up. We see the same thing with reading, writing, and most academic areas. Let’s remember that when we look at those measurable areas of learning, we should not to be surprised by ups and downs. In fact, it is this non-linear nature of learning that makes real learning so satisfying.  


Keith Nemlich

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Quick bio – BA from Cornell University in the History of Art; MEd from Castleton State College in Curriculum and Instruction; CAGS in Educational Technology Integration from Penn State; recently completed the Waddington Leadership Initiative through the Center for Creative Leadership; taught 4th-8th grades for 12 years; technology administrator for 4 years; served on the state of Vermont math committee that wrote the grade-level expectations and was a member of the committee that created the NECAPs; husband to Pam; father to Chris and Megan; father-in-law to Rachel; grandfather to Jayden and Ava; loves being at Central!