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Standardized Test Results Are Only One Measure of Our Work

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Standardized tests measure only one facet of our work.  Why not measure and report a broader view of our work? This would put standardized test results in their place among all the other measures of our efforts. Educators are not purveyors of information. We are responsible for the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical well being of our students. Our teaching includes their academic learning, civic conduct and social behaviors. We also are charged with creating an environment in which students become motivated, engaged learners who are challenged to make sense out of the information and sustain this skill for a lifetime. But, in order for our students to learn, we are first responsible for:

  • creating and maintaining an inclusive environment, that is safe and welcoming for all who come to work and learn. 
  • providing a differentiated learning environment that promotes and supports learning for all students.
  • teaching students that bullying is harmful and how to stand up to someone who bullies. 
  • overcoming the challenges of poverty and language as they impact learning.
  • recognizing a student in crisis and intervening with necessary guidance and support. 

All of this must be in place in order to provide the environment in which students can successfully learn.  And, we do not all have level playing fields. The work to be accomplished in high poverty communities is vastly different from the work to be accomplished in wealthy communities. Assessing the academic growth and achievement of our students may assume all the other aspects of our work are in place.  But can we legitimately assume that students are growing academically because we have created environments that promote learning?  Some might argue that test results rise because of extraordinary efforts devoted to test preparation. The standardized test results do not reflect our successes in building these healthy environments for learning and for supporting each child's overall growth as a result.  That is so much a part of our work. It is the part of our work where miracles occur.  Why not measure that, too?  In his Education Week Commentary, Craig Hochbein explains why he thinks it is important to measure beyond the tests and we agree.

In 1998, John R. Hauser and Gerald Katz published a paper entitled Metrics: You Are What You Measure! In it they wrote:

If a firm measures a, b, and c, but not x, y, and z, then managers begin to pay more attention to a, b, and c. Soon those managers who do well on a, b, and c are promoted or are given more responsibilities. Increased pay and bonuses follow. Recognizing these rewards, managers start asking their employees to make decisions and take actions that improve the metrics. (Often, they don't even need to ask!) Soon the entire organization is focused on ways to improve the metrics. The firm gains core strengths in producing a, b, and c. The firm becomes what it measures.

We value what we measure.  Standardized assessments increasingly hold us accountable for preparing our students to be college and career ready.  Those whose students do well will be rewarded; the others will not. Might we slide down a slippery slope if we only focus on our standardized test scores?  We do so much wonderful work to help develop our students as "whole" children, why not measure all of what we do and balance our focus.  Transparency includes revealing all of our work...and here is where the heavy lifting takes place.  Let's measure it and report it.

What conditions do we need in order for a positive, healthy, engaged faculty and student body to exist?  No matter our local needs, whether it is combating the literacy gaps between our students living in poverty and those who are not, or students who are motivated and those who are not (the possibilities are endless), we have an opportunity to measure what we value. 

Might we counter-balance with a multitude of measures that contribute to our capacity to provide the opportunity for students to develop as learners?  In each district, the reports would be different, but many of the considerations would be similar.  We already measure facets of our culture.  We do surveys to gather information on how engaged students are in their learning, how safe students feel, both physically and emotionally, the manner in which students and teachers speak with each other, the number and reasons for referrals, the number and cause of drop outs, the quality of the work produced by students, the attention to reaching all students. Let's examine the level of athletic, artistic and cultural and leadership experiences our students have.  And let's see which students are excelling there. What a great conversation could be generated in each district if communities struggled to agree on what, other than standardized tests, mattered to them. Then community values are revealed and data gathered can also be reported. The result is more complete evidence of our work toward providing a quality 21st century education to our students.

We all have problems to solve, challenges to meet, barriers to overcome in order to continue leading our schools toward a newer model. Most are now overwhelmed by the amount of standardized testing and the exclusive focus on those results.  Defining and reporting on multiple measures is, yet again, more work. But, it may serve to balance our focus so that standardized testing results takes it rightful place as just one indicator of the work we do.

Victoria L. Bernhardt, in a monograph she wrote for CASCD in 1998 stated:

When we focus only on student learning measures, we see school personnel using their time figuring out how to look better on the student learning measures. We want school personnel to use their time figuring out how to be better for all students.

Fifteen years later, we are still in the same place. We may not know how to measure the other, less tangible aspects of our work, but we may certainly benefit from learning how and reporting out on these other facets of our work as well.  Let's engage in that conversation and lead change from the bottom up.

Resources:

Bernhardt,V.L.,(1998,March).Invited Monograph No.4.California Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (CASCD).

Victoria L. Bernhardt, Ph.d. is Executive Director of the Education for the Future Initiative, and Professor in the College of Communication and Education at California State University, Chico (on leave)

Craig Hochbein, is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pa.

John R. Hauser is the Kirin Professor of Marketing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management.

Gerald M. Katz is Vice President of Applied Marketing Science, Inc., 303 Wyman Street, Waltham, MA 02154

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