Schools Seek to Reduce Emphasis on Test Scores

Published May 31, 2016

Indianapolis is one of many cities beginning to use new federal rules to judge public schools by measures other than test scores, such as school discipline reports, student and teacher surveys, and graduation rates. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind several months ago, newly requires states to rate schools with “non-academic” criteria.

Raw test scores don’t give enough information by which to fairly judge school quality or fit for a particular family. Furthermore, using scores in that way has pushed many schools into absurd test-juicing without doing much to improve students’ overall learning.

On the other hand, there are serious privacy concerns with expanding what bureaucrats monitor and use to measure schools – and there are serious practical impediments as well. If bureaucrats can’t manage a few criteria well, why should they seek to manage more?

Further, while test scores may be a poor measure for schools, they are perhaps the best-studied measure of school quality. We know very little about other measures of school quality – how reliably they improve students’ long-term success, how correlated with family satisfaction and long-term achievement is a datapoint such as student perceptions of teacher “warmth.” Yet we are to spend administrator, parent, teacher, and student time and energy in decades of yet more paper-pushing with no evidence the effort will be worth it? As if schools don’t have enough distractions from their ostensible academic mission!

In Indianapolis, planners hope to publish the material for parents to use in choosing schools, but it remains to be seen whether the data they’re collecting are data parents want, or that the data will be easily accessible. Surveys of parents whose children use education vouchers find that “school environment” – a fuzzy, hard-to define category – is often more important to them than test scores, although academics are an important measure, too. A new area of research is indeed reinforcing this longstanding family perception, but it’s too new to use in shaping school policy in this way, as Jay Greene explains in a recent review.

Besides, private organizations such as GreatSchools already collect this sort of information, and they are more closely attuned to what parents care about because parents are their core customers. For this Indianapolis project, school administrators and government bureaucrats are core customers, so the measures will be distorted toward their desires, which have more to do with saving face than objective quality.

This is merely another example of the information problem: Central planners never have enough information by which to make good decisions for hundreds, let alone hundreds of millions, of people. People’s needs, desires, and situations are too different. Unlike fatuously so-called “education stakeholders,” individuals have a deep stake in their own family’s successful outcome. And they have a fundamental right to make these sorts of decisions for themselves, rather than being held hostage by their property, sales, and income taxes.

No education system will be perfect. But the one that offers the best results possible is the one in which people are set free to make their own judgments about what is best for their own lives, and the lives of people they deeply know and love. That’s called school – and information – choice.

SOURCE: Chalkbeat Indiana, Education Next


School Choice Roundup

  • HIGH EXPECTATIONS: A communications rep for BASIS schools, which runs both private and charter schools that expect students to compete with the highest-performing peers worldwide, explains some keys to the schools’ approach and education reform in general.

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

  • MASSACHUSETTS: A new study, which claims to show Common Core tests are as good at predicting college performance as previous Massachusetts tests, is flawed, and here’s why.

Education Today

  • TECH: Now that many schools direct children online for homework, quizzes, and other activities, companies such as Facebook and Google are tracking kids’ activities and interests. Meanwhile, a new series of experiments finds reading on-screen prompted young adults to focus on details over context. Screen reading “led to greater focus on concrete details, but less ability to infer meaning or quickly get the gist of a problem,” reports Education Week.