Take Away the Tests. How Do We Then Measure School Success?

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Once we strip away the test scores and all the traditional data (quantitative) measures of school success—how do we define and assess successful schools?  If you are a principal, a teacher, a student, a parent, a community member—how do you describe what a successful school looks like without referencing standardized test scores?

This is seemingly a simple question, but it is one weighing heavily on my mind when I think about alternate forms of data to tell the story of learning in a school.  It’s a question that begs to be asked when you are trying to convince the Advanced Placement teacher whose students typically score 4s and 5s on their AP exams that you as a school library program have valuable learning experiences to offer his or her students.  While data driven collaboration is certainly important in today’s educational climate for school libraries, I still believe a bigger vision of how we measure success beyond test scores (that are often flawed or misleading) is needed when articulating the mission and purpose of education and what a successful school looks like without referencing the latest AP exam or SAT scores.

How would your administrators, school board members, students, teachers, parents, legislators, and community members describe a successful school in the absence of standardized tests?  What does a successful school look like to you?

7 thoughts on “Take Away the Tests. How Do We Then Measure School Success?

  1. How about number of students who make it into different levels of colleges (community, technical, etc.)? Not that I think college is necessary for all students, but it is a decent goal for quite a few (and it seems like what many are aiming for).

    1. That could be one measure, but does getting into college always constitute success? And does not getting into college constitute failure? Just thinking out loud here…keep the ideas coming and thank you for taking time to respond!

      Buffy

      1. I’m interested in how many students make it into college if it’s accompanied with demographic data (“all our affluent white students go to college and no one else does” isn’t success, no matter how high a percentage of your student body it is), but I’m more interested in how they do when they’re there. Not just grades, although that’s nice to know, but also things like — were they prepared to research, organize, and write an academic paper? Can they study for tests when no one gives them a study guide? Can they plan and execute major projects? Can they deduce a professor’s standards and priorities, and characterize work that would constitute inadequate, adequate, or excellent progress toward those goals?

        Unfortunately such data are hard to collect (and, for all I know, run up against privacy concerns).

        In general for schools, though, I’m very interested in “how prepared are students for the next level?” It’s harder to measure for high schools since the “next level” can mean so many different things in different locations, and it’s harder to measure in some subjects than others (either because they are more subjective or because the same teacher teaches all the levels). But if my middle schoolers went on to handle their high school Latin classes confidently and capably I was doing something right, you know?

        Of course, I have no idea if that was the case because I had no institutional support for gathering such data and never got around to doing it myself.

        (My ideal educational future is also one in which part of the role of the administration is making it easier for teachers to evaluate and reflect on their practice, whether by data-gathering instruments, scheduling considerations, better use of summer, et cetera…)

      2. I should say also this is a problem I’ve been looking at as I think about school options for my daughter; I’m not impressed by my local public schools so it’s a question of researching private schools, which do not have test data I can reference (they may take tests — they’re not required to, but some do — but that information is for internal purposes so I don’t have ready access). The proxy I’ve been using is reading their middle school curricula, especially math and languages since I’m most familiar with that: how ambitious are their expectations? In what grade is algebra typically taught? If they have a Latin program and I can read this info between the lines, what textbook do they use and how fast do they progress through it? And at what age do they introduce language study? How much flexibility do they appear to have for students to progress through the curriculum at different rates (slower OR faster)? Insofar as they discuss pedagogical approaches or major projects, are those cliched or are they interesting and vibrant? Insofar as they have a strategic plan or long-range plan, what are their priorities? (And what *aren’t* their priorities?)

        And then I kind of take it on faith that their elementary program will be sufficient to lead up to that, since I have no idea how to assess elementary programs.

        But this is a pretty flawed strategy. I mean, I know from their web sites what they *mean* to teach, but I don’t know how well they succeed in doing so, and I don’t know what the classroom culture is like. I can sit in on classes, but that’s very time-consuming: not an option for everyone, and certainly not an option if the problem you’re facing is not “see which of a handful of schools is best for my one kid” but “evaluate entire districts’ or states’ or countries’ worth of schools to see how they are for all kids”. There’s a significant element of hope and prayer here; that’s something I can deal with (somewhat) in my personal life, but a lousy basis for public policy.

  2. A successful school is one that produces young adults that can articulate what they know and how they’ve come to know it. A successful student is one who has the ability to self-educate, so that when they leave the confines of the classroom, the learning doesn’t end–it only begins.

  3. Hi Buffy,

    I struggle with this as well and did a little vent when our state created school “report cards” based on test scores: http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/stars-in-parents-eyes.html

    While I think we can quantify a lot, it’s also important to remember Einstein’s words that parents instinctively understand, “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts.”

    We need balance and multiple indicators of success for both kids and schools.

    Doug

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