Not Just Test Scores
A column by Sylvester Brown Jr. in the Post-Dispatch today contains some thoughtful discussion about education reform. Although I don’t agree with all the conclusions, Brown raises important issues. For example, here is an excerpt from a discussion he had with Professor William Tate:
When politicians set the educational agenda solely based on test scores, they miss the big picture, Tate said.
"Test scores do not measure social development. You can’t talk about the educational phenomenon without considering the housing, health, juvenile justice and dropout phenomenons. That’s the role these great universities can play."
Politicians may set the educational agenda for now, Tate said, but St. Louis has the resources and "capacity to change."
"When it comes down to it, we’re all in charge; it’s a group deal. I think we can do better here," Tate said. "But it will require a consortium of leaders broadly concerned about the real future of our youth, not just test scores."
SLPS test scores are so poor that pointing them out is an eye-catching addition to any argument (including some of mine). But we shouldn’t base our support for any policy on test scores alone. After all, some countries have school systems that do a good job at achieving high scores but that fail in other areas, such as promoting creativity and independent thinking.
Tate and Brown think the plurality of educational purposes calls for more input from experts. I think it calls for more input from parents. When some parents look for a school, they are interested in test scores and academic achievement. A study summarized in Education Next has found that parents whose kids attend high-poverty schools are most interested in those measures of success. But even within socioeconomic groups, not all parents want the same things. Some parents care more about values and character education, extracurricular activities, a warm school environment, or a number of other factors.
We don’t need one "educational agenda" for a diverse group of people. We should allow parents to make their own decisions about which schools their children attend. That way, parents can choose schools that excel in areas that matter to them whether or not they include high test scores.