With the release of Kentucky schools’ test scores, parents, district leaders and legislators are cautioned to keep in mind that our schools (and our kids) are more than a test score. The notion that this single metric, which has been shown to correlate more closely with income (or wealth) than it does a student’s intelligence or potential, or a school’s ability to provide a quality education, is harmful to students, teachers and schools. This unhealthy overemphasis on state test scores:
- results in a “test-and-punish” mentality that devalues students and demoralizes teachers for factors beyond their control, instead of supporting and acknowledging the hurdles and accomplishments of those serving our highest-needs populations,
- promotes a competitive vs. collaborative environment that pits schools against each other, instead of encouraging nurturing learning environments that reward the sharing of best practices and resources,
- forces legislators and administrators to place pressure on teachers to focus on short-term, adult-centered concerns instead of permitting highly skilled educators to use their training to teach the lessons that are truly in the best interests of students,
- creates unnecessary anxiety, health and self-esteem problems for students, while simultaneously snuffing out their love of learning,
- squeezes out meaningful subjects and activities, such as art, music, and extracurriculars, as well as time for lunch and play,
- results in disproportionate emphasis on remediation for our high-poverty, high needs (GAP) populations as compared to mainstream populations, which comes at the expense of enrichment, interventions and meaningful instruction for high-needs students who might benefit from it the most,
- contributes to excessive teacher turnover in persistently low-achieving schools or schools with higher needs populations,
- increases incidence of behavior and discipline problems, and
- leads to age-inappropriate activities and content, including teaching our children to properly fill in bubble tests as early as kindergarten!
Worst of all, persistently low test scores have been linked to closing neighborhood schools that serve our most vulnerable students, while opening the door to privatizers and swindlers who are more interested in getting their hands on our tax dollars than they are in improving student outcomes.
“High-stakes test scores are the blood diamonds of public education,” says Gay Adelmann, co-founder of Dear JCPS and founder of Save Our Schools KY. “Well-meaning adults who buy into the hype that these test scores measure the success of a school, or the ability or potential of a child, unwittingly perpetuate the war on public education.”
With the passage of ESSA, local school systems have the opportunity to design a broader, more student-centered accountability system, such as a “dashboard” approach. Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said during a town hall meeting in April, “If we don’t come out with an accountability system focused on students, then we’ve failed. It can’t be about adults chasing points. The system needs to promote what’s best for students.” The new federal act requires the system to be in place by the 2017-18 school year, too late to mitigate the detrimental effects of this year’s test results.