Square Peg, Round Hole


It is well documented that students learn differently and they most certainly test differently. Teachers honor and respect the cognitive, social, and emotional differences in their students by differentiating instruction. A standardized test does not measure the diverse skills and cognitive abilities of our students in a differentiated or respectful way.

Demanding students stay connected to a text and think critically about text-dependent questions that have only one right answer, is not the same as cultivating independent and critical thinking skills. Just as training students to solve Common Core math word problems, is not the same as fostering the development of creative problem-solving skills.

NASA scientists were confronted with a “Square Peg, Round Hole” dilemma during the Apollo 13 Mission in 1970. Fortunately they were educated in the BC era (Before Core) when student-centered and non-routine learning experiences cultivated creative, innovative, and inventive thinkers who were prepared and “ready” to solve a novel problem as they tried out and tested numerous plausible strategies and solutions.


Heavy emphasis on “hard skills” leaves children unprepared for the real “tests” in life.


The appropriate and skillful application of hard skills is soft skills dependent.

~ Corporate Learning World Blog

Working with grade 7-12 students in a public school for more than a quarter century, and as a summer youth employment counselor for more than a decade, it has been my experience that a lack of soft skills (perseverance, ambition, self-confidence, self-discipline, patience, initiative, integrity, empathy, courage, cooperative, resilient…) has directly contributed to declining student achievement and performance in the classroom and on the job.

While mastery of content and literacy skills are important for career and college readiness, these performance standards are too often trumped or canceled out when a student or employee lacks a work ethic, emotional intelligence, and has not developed a personal code of conduct.

One of the underlying premises of CCSS appears to be that students who cannot read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life. Not everyone can be an advanced reader, no matter how hard they try. Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?

Considering the diversity of student skills and abilities represented in our classrooms It is foolish and inherently unfair to define and predict student success in life based on a narrow and shallow set of testable math and reading skills.

Testing and training students to meet common math and ELA standards does not prepare them for the social and emotional challenges of uncommon careers.

The “power” and critical importance of soft skills is evidenced by the highly successful careers of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Tom Cruise, Erin Brockovich, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Winston Churchill and many other dyslexics.

These individuals and many others learners like them have not allowed limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life. Instead, they relied upon their special talents and abilities to overcome obstacles in life and compensate for any cognitive deficiencies.

Emotional intelligence often “levels the playing field” and helps adults to lead productive and very successful lives in spite of weaker reading or writing skills…

“…But what has become obvious—as evidenced by the sheer number of dyslexic World Economic Forum attendees in Davos and by plenty of research—is not only that dyslexics can be, and often are, brilliant, but that many develop far superior abilities in some areas than their so-called normal counterparts…What those highly accomplished people wanted to discuss, albeit discreetly, was their reading ability, or, more accurately, the difficulty they have reading—one of the telltale symptoms of the disorder…”

Coudl This Be teh Sercet to Sussecc? American Way, July, 2008

Learning is about discovering your purpose and passion in life. Schools should provide diverse pathways and opportunities for students to explore and unleash their specialized skills and abilities…not standardize them.

Many disabled, delayed, and struggling learners will not reach and realize their full academic and vocational potential in life if their schools choose to eliminate diverse learning activities and K-12 programs to increase instructional time and preparation for annual math and ELA assessments.


While CCSS evangelists continue to extol the importance of hard skills to properly prepare students for college and careers. Business leaders and employers continue to lament the subpar soft skills of their new hires.

A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.

Source: The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired 11/10/13

As Dale Carnegie said, The man who is enthusiastic will find the scales tipped in his favor. And a man of second-rate ability, with enthusiasm, will outstrip a man of first-rate ability without enthusiasm.”

The fact that a person does not apply critical thinking skills is not proof or evidence that he or she does not possess them. People often confuse critical thinking skills with decision making skills. Just because a person can think critically does not mean they will always make good decisions.

This helps to explain why people who can think critically may still decide to….text and drive, steal from an employer, send inappropriate emails and texts, lie on a resume, participate in scandalous behavior as part of the US President’s Secret Service detail, exaggerate and lie about their war reporting, participate in bullying and violent activities, or choose to remain a bystander but decide to videotape such vile activities and share them on social media.

In school and the workplace, it is very often decision making skills as well as critical thinking skills that will determine success.

Good decision making depends on an essential set of soft skills and attitudes that are not easily tested and measured including;  integrity, empathy, selflessness, persistence, resilience, compassion, risk-taker, self-efficacy etc.

The reliability and “strength” of these abilities is not always constant as they can be affected and impaired by emotions, drugs, lack of sleep, stress, trauma, a chemical imbalance, and other neurological and psychological conditions.

Critical reading and thinking skills are very important, but they do not trump or supersede the equally if not more important soft skills.

Mastery of content may help a person get hired, or accepted to college, but it is content of character that ultimately determines who keeps their job and who will graduate from college.

While it certainly is important that a recently hired worker can read and understand the employee manual and quarterly reports that will be of little consequence if the person doesn’t possess the self-discipline and decision making skills to abide by the company’s email, texting, and computer use policies.

Focusing education programs on a narrow and rigorous set of measurable hard skills at the expense of vigorous social/emotional learning experiences that cultivate essential interpersonal and intrapersonal skills will leave our students ill equipped and unprepared for the real “tests” in life.


Hard skills are the foundation of a successful career. But soft skills are the cement. ~ Dorothy Dalton


Schooling should help children DISCOVER their own unique talents, not “standardize” them.


Grading teachers based on when their students acquire and master a specific set of skills, is like grading parents based on when their children learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike.

While, most people can learn to ride a bicycle, not everyone has the innate ability, determination, and desire to become a BMX racer.

When it comes to acquiring new skills, the level of proficiency a student achieves and the speed at which that occurs, depends on a variety of factors including; type of instruction, how often they independently practice and use the skill, parental involvement, student engagement, and most importantly, cognitive ability and disability.

The Common Core State Standards are specific “goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level.”

Every student is expected to meet these standards or “targets” on schedule, and regardless of each student’s cognitive ability or disability.

All high school students will not be able to pass a Calculus class, just as not every student will be reading on grade level at the end of each school year. Testing students repeatedly does not improve their skills or change their abilities and disabilities.

A Standardized test score does not explain why a student performed at a particular skill level and cannot predict how they will perform in the future, or even when they will acquire and master a particular skill.

The rate of speed at which each student acquires new skills will most certainly change from year to year and it is speculative at best to determine the “college readiness” of an elementary student based on a data point.

There are many factors that impact student achievement from year to year, and a standardized test score cannot predict which child will be bullied, experience divorce, a death in the family, experience depression, unemployment, become homeless, develop an eating disorder, abuse drugs, join a gang, run away from home etc.

Despite it’s constructivist “promise”, the standardized testing regime of the Common Core forces teachers and students to focus on a predetermined and narrow set of measurable skills.

Unfortunately, the Common Core is more concerned with telling students what “college readiness” skills they have yet to master at each grade level, rather than helping every student to discover his or her own unique talents and unleashing the athletic, artistic, musical, creative, emotional, inventive, social, scientific, and vocational skills they do possess.