Measuring Success in Schools

Ed Reform, Common Core

How do we measure success?

Ed Reform and Measuring Success

by Jared Gellert



We are going to have a debate about the efficacy of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational reforms over the next few years.  As I read one article passionately defending what he has done, it occurred to me that we really don’t spend enough time discussing what counts as success.

Here are four possible criteria for success and their pluses and minuses.  There are certainly more possibilities.

STANDARDIZED TESTS.  The great advantage is that the results can be quantified, and thus progress or lack thereof on test scores can be measured.  The biggest minus is that the only interest in test scores is because they serve as a proxy for something else.  But what?  Do good test scores mean someone will be more emotionally or financially successful?  Does it mean that they will contribute more to the well being of the world?  I say this as someone who is really good at taking standardized tests (and I was better when I was applying to grad school than college), good test scores mean you are good at tests.  The rest of the meaning we make, upon which we spend literally billions of dollars, is less clear.

FINANCIAL SUCCESS.  The advantages here are that it’s both measurable and important in our society. It might be possible to measure people’s earnings after a certain point and compare them to other schools and say one school system is better than another because the graduates earn more.  But there are lots and lots of factors influencing economic success that attributing it to a school system could easily be problematic.   By the way, is there any correlation between test scores and financial success?  Who knows?

PERSONAL SUCCESS.  Psychologists have developed tests to measure personal satisfaction.  What if we compared school systems based on how graduates graded on these tests?  That would be different.  Anyone want to venture any guesses about correlation between test scores on standardized tests and personal satisfaction?

INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT.  Personally, this is what I’m most interested in for my kids.  I want them to become lifelong learners who will read and think, not just because they have to for work, but because that’s how they approach the world and address the inevitable challenges they will face.  Do I have any idea how to measure intellectual engagement?  Anyone want to venture any guesses about correlation between test scores on standardized tests and intellectual engagement?

We are so trained to think that test scores are the standard by which we measure the success of our schools.  For our elite school systems, we measure by how many students go to Ivy League schools.  We aren’t spending nearly enough time asking ourselves if these should be our measures of success.

Do we really know what we want to count as success?  If we don’t, shouldn’t this be a major focus?  One of my concerns about “educational reform” is that it is awfully hard to know if we are headed in the right direction, if we don’t know where we intend to arrive.

Jared Gellert is the executive director of The Center for Integrated Training and Education .


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