Are standardized tests the best way to measure the success of a school?

Half of Minnesota’s schools failed to make adequate yearly progress this year under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Today’s question: Are standardized tests the best way to measure the success of a school?

  • Matt

    Absolutely not. Norm-referenced standardized tests do not measure yearly progress at all. Only criterion-referenced assessments can measure yearly progress, but even then, only if you compare the same individual students from year to year and aggregate the results. Some schools experience high mobility of students from year to year, and even within the year, resulting in significant changes in student bodies. Often, schools have many students that that the school has not yet had a chance to educate, yet they are held accountable for the performance of these students.

    The goals of NCLB are admirable, but the implementation of those goals has been terrible.

  • The local school district board, parents, teachers, and administrators are the best people to measure a school’s success. They should decide which standardized test(s) or other assessments are the best ways to measure success, not the federal government. Other tools to measure and promote student success that should be used more are open enrollment and school choice.

  • To clarify, I agree with the commenter “Matt” on standardized tests, but I am a different Matt.

  • Michael K

    Standardized test are a relic. Not only are there students who don’t test well (which would bring down the ‘performance’ of a school), but this usually trends toward having the teachers ‘teaching to the test’. That does not usually allow the teachers to put the care needed to allow children to learn something deeper, not just ‘for the test and forget it’.

  • steve

    no no no every child is different and each one is different. you cant judge a child by a test, best teaching is done by mentoring and yes some testing but it is the overall picture of each child. I am a husband to 2 kids and a wife who is a charter school teacher and to pigeon-whole kids from tests is just wrong and inaccurate!

  • Sue de Nim

    There is no single best way to measure school success. Measuring schools by standardized test results is like judging a TV picture by how well it reproduces the reds, without reference to the blues or the greens, or to how well it combines those to reproduce the rest of the spectrum.

    The trouble is with NCLB as a whole. By rating schools on “adequate yearly progress,” it puts schools in a semantic Catch-22. Either they’re not “adequate” or they’re making “progress” toward being adequate. No matter how excellent a school is, there’s never any “good enough.” The whole thing seems designed to sabotage public schools by undermining the public’s confidence in them. Given that many of the House and Senate members who worked to cobble NCLB together had the long-term goal of privatizing the entire educational system for ideological reasons, the dysfunctionality of NCLB is not surprising.

  • Carolynne White

    As a retired special education teacher, I agree with these comments. A standardized test can not measure progress for all children. There are many categories that fall into special education. Each child has very different needs.. so one test can not possibly measure his/her progress. How can a standardized test measure the progress of a child with oppositional defiant disorder, who refuses to take the test?. (Student sees no need to take this test) How does that tell us how effective his teachers are and which one his special ed. teacher or his mainstream teacher?

    Students, parents and teachers need to continuously monitor a student’s progress over time. This way progress for the whole child is measured and not just one small section. This would work for a gifted student or an severely autistic student. But it is hard to translate that progress into a simple number that can be graphed.

    Someone needs to stand up for the students who are losing so much educational time to test practices and just time to take the tests.

  • Ron

    Whether you like it, or not, standardized testing has been used in schools for many decades. The entire world uses standardized tests to make decisions about student progress. School districts and teachers unions who don’t want to be held accountable are complaining about this standardized testing. They don’t complain about SAT testing or other college entrance exams which are standardized tests because they are not held accountable for those type of tests.

    Individual students may not respond to tests well but, by testing all students, those results are normalized. That is what statistics does best.

  • Kevin

    Teaching to a test, rather then teaching to think is the problem.

    Too much on making the right answers without understanding the answers is the problem.

    But there is something to be said about reviewing and measuring progress to a ability. But you have someone OVER tested and ONLY one way to prove themselves is dangerous to. There is always more then one way to any solution.

  • Bruce T Johnson

    I’m opposed to many of the current uses of standardized tests and to the practice of ‘teaching to the test’ but do believe that some testing is useful.

    To be useful, tests should measure progress of students and classes against their previous results — not just a national or regional average that doesn’t take into account the demographics of the particular student population.

    Then those results should be used to identify strong teachers, teaching methods and conditions and use those lessons to raise the level of others. Using tests as a means to punish under performers and label students or schools as ‘problems’ is counterproductive and self-fulfilling.

  • Meagan

    Throughout my teacher education training in college, one thing was always said: No two students are the same. You have to create flexible lessons so every student can excell. Every student learns differently, at different rates and with different styles. So why are we using tests that throw that concept out the window?

    No, standardized tests are the antithesis to real evaluation and improvement. School districts should be able to create, or at least be able to tailor thetests to their students needs and evaluative styles.

  • Joanna

    According to the letter I just received from the school district, my daughter’s school is “failing” to make progress in terms of NCLB standards. yet in the two years she has been there, I have been extremely pleased with the quality of her teachers, the staff, the administration, the curriculum, the attention to individual students and to creating an atmosphere of respect and camaraderie. I like how the school communicates with parents, the web site, the open houses, the extracurricular activity. I admire the services they provide to kids for their health, career and college advising, and student-initiated projects.She loves it, I love it that she loves her school experience. By these measures, her school is a great success. So what do the standardized test scores tell me? I believe they can be explained by other observations I’ve made: that a lot of the kids in her school are still learning English. That a lot of them live in poverty, many of them have to work to help support their families. That some of the kids there are not doing as well on the tests as others, although they might be doing just fine in other ways.

    NCLB has had such a destructive effect on how teachers and administrators approach their jobs, I can’t wait for it to be replaced with something more rational.

  • Matt Stensland-Bos

    An emphatic NO WAY. Standardized tests measure an extremely limited range of skills while completely ignoring dozens of intelligence types. Further, they put blame on teachers for so-called “failures” that are often the result of inadequate state funding, poverty, and lack of parental support.

  • Laura

    The comments on the incompleteness of what standardized tests are able to measure are exactly right. In addition, current tests assess how well this year’s third grade class, for example, does as compared to last year’s third grade class. This tells us nothing about the growth of individual students.

    Good assessments measure the growth of individual students over time. That growth is an “annual yearly progress” that really matters.

  • kennedy

    The question is “Are standardized tests the best way to measure the success of a school?”

    While standardized tests are imperfect, I am not aware of a better option to measure the knowledge level of a large group of students.

    The criteria for defining a “failing” school could certainly use some improvement, though.

  • Greg

    The design of NCLB was based on the “continuous quality improvement model” long since deserted by manufacturers as completely impractical. Its real purpose was to do as it is doing – enable its sponsors to eventually declare that since public schools are not doing the impossible (bringing all students, no matter what their circumstances, no matter what their level of interest, even special ed students up to grade level in ALL basic skills) they are ALL failing. It was designed to enable a massive attack on Public Education in order to convince the public to PUNISH public schools by reducing their funding which would, of course, result in even worse performance, eventually allowing the desertion of public schools, in general, in favor of private schools for the wealthy and a few chosen individuals, increasing illiteracy for the rest, a less aware and thus more compliant work force, and a massive savings of tax dollars for the fabulously wealthy.

  • Mike

    Of course not. Standardized tests as a measure of what a school is doing are little more than a lazy bureaucratic replacement for real, first hand evaluations of curriculum, teachers, and student achievement.

  • DNA

    They’re only a part of the measure. I think there should be an ongoing online CE and testing for adults in all the subjects that kids are tested on (and more … on past GED, and SAT…). Most adults could brush up and hone skills on many subjects. Individualized assessment and virtual (or live) tutoring made available if needed. I think I heard Bill Gates talk about this at the Aspen Ideas Fest.

  • Steve the Cynic

    I think one of the “standardized tests” that should be required for HS graduation is the one immigrants have to take to become citizens. It would improve the level of political discourse if talk radio hot heads couldn’t count on their audiences to be ill-informed about their own country.

  • NO.

    There is TOO much “education” and not enough “learning”, TOO much “aping” and not enough “experience. Standardized tests do not address this issue.