More Than Test Scores

By Douglas B. Reeves

When we say that a school or district is successful, exactly what do we mean?

Two respected critics of contemporary educational policies -- Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn -- suggest that measuring success only by gains in test scores leaves us at risk of many unintended consequences. Test-based accountability excludes powerfully important educational factors such as early childhood education, the fine arts, student leadership, community service, and a host of other elements that are never fully described by a table of reading and math scores.

What should school boards do when the price to be paid for federal grants and the penalties to be avoided by state sanctions are focused exclusively on test scores rather than on broader measures of success? Critics are right about the need to broaden the definitions of educational success. However, boards need practical alternatives that preserve essential principles of accountability without relying exclusively on test scores.

Where is the middle ground between destructive test mania and a reversion to systems that elevate adult complacency over student need? One answer is to redefine accountability from test scores to a comprehensive reflection of the work of students, teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and communities.

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