For Administrators

Three Ways for Educators to Look Beyond Test Scores

By Brian Gatens June 17, 2013

Everybody in education knows that standardized tests measure only a fraction of a school’s accomplishments. But how do we quantify things that do not produce test scores?

First, we have to get in the habit of challenging the thinking behind how we do things. For instance, as a school superintendent, I tried to spend at least some part of my idle time musing about how I would change how we educate children.

Some of these thoughts would be considered rather radical, such as having all children learn two languages as early as possible in their academic career. The cognitive benefits of being able to know and speak two languages have been well proven, but no one has latched onto my idea yet.

Another idea would be to start school as late as mid-morning for middle school students, as their developmental needs call for later nights and therefore later mornings. I have seen this proven by my teenage twins, who can sleep well over 12 hours on a weekend morning. If that’s not a sign of how skewed our school clocks are, I don’t know what is.

So now that we’re in the mood for thinking nontraditional thoughts, let’s take a look at three ways to look beyond testing for other ways to document a school’s successes:

1.  Measure the ‘kindness quotient’ of your school

I’ve always maintained that while the primary role of a school is to provide for a child’s academic growth, I also strongly believe that the social growth and development of the child is just as important. I suggest you take a moment to assess how many social-service activities your school has undertaken.

  • How has your school reached out to others?
  • How many students took part?
  • Did every child have the opportunity to help others, no matter how small or minor the activity might have been?
  • How many of those activities were student-generated and student-run?

2. Conduct a community survey

This one takes a little bit of guts. Twice a year, I ask our community to anonymously and thoroughly assess the quality of our academic program, school environment and work expectations placed on the children. I hope to have many parents from across multiple grade levels reach out and share their honest feedback about their experience with our school.

I used a modified survey created by Harvard University and have received strong and honest feedback. It is important to note, though, that I never ask for specific feedback on the performance of any teacher or grade level. This would unnecessarily open staff members up to direct criticism, and that’s not the goal of the survey.

3. Dig deep into your school’s data

Another valuable way to evaluate the success or struggles of your school is to look at data generated by the daily activities of your staff and students.

  • What are the attendance rates?
  • How many students were referred to school support personnel for behavior issues?
  • How many students needed to be suspended due to their behavior?

All of these data points can come together to measure the overall progress of the school year. Over time the school can collect data such as this and spread it out across several years to identify trends and that can then lead to informed decision-making for the school administration.

Regardless of the data type or collection, I strongly recommend that you begin to look at alternative indicators of successes or struggles as you continue to grow as a professional. Solid data, collected over time, will lead you to understandings and conclusions that you may have never thought of before.

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