Evaluation of Merit in the 21st Century

Faced with an impossible task — ranking and comparing the potential and/or performance of students — that may not even be worthwhile to evaluate, our educational system has developed practices that are inaccurate at best and downright dangerous at worst. Because the people developing these systems are administrators who are adults removed from the experiences of their students, their evaluation systems are stuck in old frames of thought that are hard to break out of.

What would our ideal evaluation of students look like? Would we judge them on their ability to complete exams in a prescribed way by spitting out specific facts, year after year, but then when they enter the workforce expect them to look things up rather than know them, and come up with unique creative ideas instead of regurgitated information? This is pretty much what we are doing now. Our systems of evaluation are clearly outdated, the hard task is coming up with a better alternative.


If we get to the root of the question, perhaps it is not even accurate to measure students’ performance, but instead intrinsic character traits and talents which may be more reliable predictors of potential. This would help with the issue of diversity because student performance would correlate less with the snazzy toys and tutors purchased by parents and more with key personality traits. Take a look at Paul Tough‘s list:

  • Grit
  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Social intelligence
  • Zest
  • Optimism
  • Gratitude

Why have some wildly successful geniuses and entrepreneurs fallen through the cracks of our educational system before going on to rise to the top of adult society? Does school performance actually predict success as much as our society assumes it to? It is time to accept that our evaluation systems are all wrong, and to actively try to create better ones.


Hey! I'm a 19-year-old student at Tufts University where I am majoring in Math. I'm from Upstate New York and was the only Hindu in my small-town public school. I love artichokes and eyeliner and lifehacking. I have a ton of interests, but most of them fall under the umbrellas of Education/Learning, Media/Entertainment, Mathematics, Design, or Technology. I have been inseparable from my laptop(s) since I was a xanga-layout-making, neopoint-hoarding 12-year-old.

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