Is a School Defined by its Test Scores?

December 5, 2011

Political Theory


Today, I was looking on CNN for articles relating to problems within school systems for another class when I came across an article titled, “Embattled Principal Says Boss Wants Him Fired.”  I immediately clicked on the article because I was curious about why this made the news since people get fired all the time.  The article was about an Indianapolis Superintendent who wants a certain Indianapolis Public School principal to be “removed.”

The article goes on to say why the Superintendent wanted the school principal gone.  The first reason was because the school’s most recent test scores were too low, according to the Superintendent.  The second reason was because the principal was disobedient to the school district, which was strictly focused on increasing the test scores.  The principal admitted to not enforcing rules that would solely increase test scores.  He felt as though his purpose was to create a great school environment for the kids and their families.  There is reason to believe that the students and their families agree with the principal and think he created a school environment that enhances learning and growth.  Many of the students, who were upset that their principal might be fired, put tape over their mouths as a protest.

After reading the article, I didn’t understand why this principal would be fired just for low test scores, especially if he was making a difference to his students.  To me, this draws on a bigger issue of why schools put such an emphasis on test scores.  Test scores give people a concrete number to reference when comparing schools, which influences a school’s demand by parents.  These numbers can therefore determine how many kids are enrolled in a specific school and how much money that school will receive, which could be why the Superintendent cares about the low test scores.

Although the principal probably wants more money for his school, he does not want it at the cost of the students’ growth.  If the principal were to align his objectives with that of the school board, teachers may begin to teach solely for the standardized tests.  This would not give students a well-rounded and comfortable learning experience.

In a sense, the school is being given an identity based on the test scores of the students who attend it.  Parents, administrators, and government officials evaluate the test scores as indicative of what a school can do.  People perceive a school with low test scores as incapable or needing to overcome some problems.  The school in the article may be good in other areas but not in what makes a “good” school, according to its test scores.  However, the students at the school in the article feel that their school has a principal who created a comfortable learning environment, markedly improving the student’s motivation and success.  This kind of measurement does not show up in test scores.  We do have test scores for a reason though: test scores measure some specific knowledge, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking abilities.  Maybe it’s not the test scores that are a problem, but our perception and the meaning we give to them.

This difference in perception reminded me of Aimee Mullins.  In her TED talk,  Aimee Mullins, who wears prosthetic legs, discusses how people define her as disabled.  She does not have the same legs as most humans so people who do have “normal” legs perceive that she has a disability that must be overcome in order to function normally.  Aimee, however, does not feel disabled at all; in fact, she sees herself as super-able.

There is a negative connotation to low test scores and not having human legs, which can both be considered arbitrary to what is really important.  In schools, learning and growth are most important and in humans, personal traits are most important like kindness or integrity.  How have these perceptions of test scores and disabilities come to be so different from how people perceive themselves?

Aimee says that she has the ability to define her own identity separate from what is considered human.  For example, she can change her height and have different cool-looking legs every day, something that most people cannot do.  Could this way of turning a negative into a positive be applicable to the school as well?  How could the school district change people’s perception of a low test score from what the school cannot do to what they can do?

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4 Comments on “Is a School Defined by its Test Scores?”

  1. finkelbr Says:

    I could not agree more with you. I hate to say that I am not shocked to hear that a principal was threatened purely due to his schools test scores. It seems as though we only know how to rate each other based off of numbers rather than potential and growth. I agree that schools are much more than their cumulative test score rankings. There is much more to learning than doing well on a test, especially since there are many people with test-taking problems. I was extremely impressed by Aimee after listening to her presentation. I love how she laughs when people see her as “disabled”. The way she has approached everything is amazing to me. I want to think that it is plausible to apply to the schooling system as well I just do not know how it would be done. I can not think of a way to turn bad test scores in to a good thing. I think there should be other ways of rating schools such as overall academic improvement and academic environment. However, I can not think of any specific ways to spin a bad test score into a good thing.

  2. ywjpeter Says:

    I agree with your perception and understanding of test scores, and especially related to this article. The understanding is greater the scores, better the school. This may not be necessarily true as I think I have seen University of Michigan has one of the higher failure rates but our institution is regarded as one of the top elite schools. The learning environment and encouragement of seeking knowledge in this institution is what makes Michigan so great. For this principal to be fired in this manner is uncalled for. They principal was not disregarding test scores, but creating an environment where students can be comfortable learning and seeking knowledge. I do not think you can put a positive spin on bad test scores, like Aimee did with her disability, but there should be a better way to judge a school. There are many factors and though somethings just need to be tested, the job a principal can do can vary in making a school better.

  3. julieele Says:

    I completely agree with your view on how society has such a great emphasis on test scores. The school systems seem to now care less about the students as individuals and see them as potential to receive funding. Higher test scores can create more funding for a school since they are considered more elite and in turn create more opportunities for these elite students. Though the general idea of this system seems great, it has somehow transformed into creating unnecessary burdens on the students to perform a certain way. I feel as though the tests do not actually test what children have learned or what they are capable of but more about the regurgitation of facts. The tests also create what a perfect student should be capable of but it can not possibly show all of their skill-sets or potential as students.

    I feel strongly about this matter because I experienced this myself. I graduated from the New York City public education system and there are many things that I believe should be reformed. The schools I attended all emphasized exams. At a young age, I saw myself as just another dollar sign at my school because teachers would let us know that these exams would generate more funding if we did well. I never felt like I learned anything substantial, I felt like I was always preparing for my next test. I never really learned how to apply my knowledge to anything other than an exam question. Teachers began to just teach for the test rather than for the purpose of educating. This was especially prominent when I began taking AP courses. I was involved in an honors program where I had absolutely no choice but to take whatever AP courses they told me to take. I was made aware that the more AP courses we had available and the more test takers we had, the more money we would receive. They actually never even cared about our performance on the exams, we were just another body who took the exam. It was also rare for an AP teacher to ever even teach the course seriously. Most students who actually wanted to receive AP credit for college ended up having to teach the course to themselves.

    It’s sad that this ever occurred to me but it is a reality. I did have a few teachers like this one principal though. They would refuse to teach for these exams and would instead teach us other skills and material that we could use in life and even possibly apply to the exams. Looking back, I greatly appreciate these teachers and the impacts they had on me. Even though they taught me skills that I would not be able to demonstrate on an exam, they are useful in my everyday life.

  4. pbaumhart Says:

    Just yesterday I came across an article in the Washington Post which took a look at standardized test scores (Link is below). In this article it has a school board member take standardized tests intended for 10th graders, the test taker received a college degree and was working towards doctorate. The scores that he received were below the standards expected by the district, he got a 62% on the test. I find it to be incredibly interesting to see how schools put such an emphasis on the importance of test scores. It also seems slightly ridiculous that a principal could potentially lose his job over this situation. The issue here is that even though the school was not delivering the test results expected by the district but that low test scores have received such a negative connotation in our society.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/when-an-adult-took-standardized-tests-forced-on-kids/2011/12/05/gIQApTDuUO_blog.html#pagebreak

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