December 20, 2021

Akil Bello: Ben Simmons and Educational Testing

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Akil Bello offers an NBA example of how measuring the wrong thing gets you the wrong answer.

Ben Simmons is an NBA player. He’s a point guard (historical expectations is providing leadership, passing, defense, and maybe some scoring/shooting). He’s a pass-first point guard, more known for passing, defense, and leadership than for scoring. This is who he is. This is who he has always been. This might even be who we want our point guards to be.

Ben shot an abysmal 35% from the free throw line in a playoff series.

His terrible shooting at the line killed his confidence and made him tentative. His team, the 76ers, lost that playoff series to the lower ranked Atlanta Hawks. Philly fans, being Philly fans and in this case representing a certain faction of education pundits, turned on him and started calling him out his name. They called him all kinds of trash. His teammates and coach in interviews gave the weakest pseudo-support I’ve ever seen a teammate given.

This was Ben’s SAT and he apparently failed.

He’s since been declared “not ready for college and career.” He’s been labeled under-achieving. He’s suffered learning loss. He’s not ready for elite basketball. The parallels are astounding. Underperformance during one important moment in time is used to undermine the entire history of accomplishment.

This one failed test snatched the confidence from an All-Star player, gave him the yips, and maybe ended his time with a team he’d just signed a 5-year $170 million contract with.

Let’s look fully at the context of who Ben Simmons is

  • 1st  2016 NBA draft
  • 2017 -18 rookie of the year.
  • All-Star selection 2018, 2019, 2020

But those who like “objective measures” like to look at shooting. Shooting is a good approximation for standardized testing. Free throw shooting is analogous to the SAT. Everyone takes the same shot at the same distance with no defense. The results are quantifiable numerically.

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