High standards and accountability are critical to school reform, and I strongly support both these areas.
I do worry that using test scores as the sole measure of progress can mask the more complete picture. Here’s a quiz we often use to illustrate the point:
Which of the following factors is the most accurate predictor of a school’s standardized test scores?
A. The quality of the teaching staff
B. The percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches
C. The number of children who moved from another school during the year
D. The average number of hours volunteered each week
E. The number of mothers who hold a college degree.
The answer is E.
Nationwide, schools with the highest number of mothers with college degrees have the highest test scores. No other factor correlates as highly.
But the answer is also ‘all of the above,’ because ALL these factors correlate with test scores.
Everyone agrees we must have a means to evaluate how well a student has grasped the subject matter that’s been taught, and good tests do just that.
But sometimes it is hard for students to show on a test what they really know quite well. The problem is dealing with the way a question is asked, not the information itself.
We need to know which students are truly falling short in knowledge so that we can help them succeed. The correlating factors remind us that when it comes to achievement, test scores can never tell us the whole story.