Ending the practice of using test scores to judge schools is the right thing to do

Another failure of measurement on these types of tests is that they do not recognize the difference between a student who makes a careless mistake and those who really haven’t learned the material or skill. This is especially true for important subjects like math.

By
August 18, 2013 21:44
2 minute read.
A student studies.

asian student studying 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

After the army, education is the best method of guaranteeing national security. It is also the most important force for financial and cultural advancement and most importantly, the thriving of our country.

School improvement is an essential component of effective education. But not all methods of doing this make sense. Former education minister Gideon Sa’ar’s insistence on continuing the use of standardized tests to measure school performance not only defies educational logic, but sets Israeli education back 20 years. Here’s why.

The first objection is that standardized tests do not measure anything remotely connected to school improvement. Like evaluations of all professionals, what the client brings to the doctor, lawyer or accountant has as much to do with success as what the professional brings to the client. Doctors, for example, are not held accountable when advanced cancer patients dies. They are evaluated on whether they did everything possible to make the situation as good as possible.

Heart surgeons have different mortality rates than knee surgeons (at least I hope so). Lawyers with guilty clients cannot expect the same results as lawyers with innocent ones. The same is true for teachers and schools. What students bring to the teacher or school has as much to do with success as what they do for the student. That is close to impossible to measure with a test.

Secondly, the only concept worth measuring in school evaluation is student improvement. Moving a student from a 60 on some theoretical scale to a 75 is better than moving a student from 97 to a 94 on the same scale even though 94 is higher than 75 and gives the school a higher rating. The tests recommended by Sa’ar do not take this into account.

Another failure of measurement on these types of tests is that they do not recognize the difference between a student who makes a careless mistake and those who really haven’t learned the material or skill. This is especially true for important subjects like math. Some students simply test better than others, and their results do not accurately reflect school performance. In addition there is great variance in test preparation among schools that has little to do with comprehension of material.

Finally, and most importantly, the most important things in life simply cannot be measured, and it is foolish to try. In fact, the more important something is, the sillier it is to try to measure it. How do you measure a loving spouse, or a great parent? How about taking care of an elderly parent who needs constant care? How about someone’s relationship to the Torah? Any attempt to put numbers on these activities is beyond ridiculous.

Learning, also one of the most important things in life, simply cannot be measured by some magical numerical process. The vast majority of educators now recognize this, and are attempting to reverse decades of bowing at the altar of standardized tests. Israel needs to look to the future, not the past.

The writer is the director of the behavior disorder masters program at David Yellin College and the coauthor of Discipline with Dignity.


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