Are Elementary School Test Scores Important?

I am divided over how to use standardized test scores mandated as a part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a input into the elementary school selection process.  On the one hand, I scoff at NCLB because it encourages schools to ‘teach to the test’ instead of teaching to the student.  On the other hand, I admit that I care how well the students do on standardized tests at the schools that I am considering.  This admittedly hypocritical stance reminded me of this cartoon I recently saw that I appended to the end of this post.  My apologies for the off-color language.

A great quick and dirty source for test score data is a resource that I blogged about earlier this week, GreatSchools.org.  They track a variety of different statistical measures of public and private schools and try to aggregate the scores into one easy-to-digest “Great School Rating”. Here is a sampling of what you can see in a test score comparison view on GreatSchools.org and some data for some of the schools that I am researching.

So I am not sure what to do with this information. Where are the private school test scores?  Why grade 3?  Why not others?  I know that in Philly, many top students leave their elementary schools to go to magnets.  How much dropoff occurs in the resulting scores?

I have already expressed my skepticism about statistics on this blog, so I won’t entirely rehash my stance on that here.  However, I would like to address the issue of the misuse of statistics in the testing arena.  Education week recently published a story, “Achievement Gap: It’s all in How You Measure Them” in which they discuss how improvements in standardized test scores need to be considered with some background data–they cite how equivalent improvements in two states differ in that at one state, all of the improvements were in one racial group while in another state the improvements were equal along racial lines.  Though this article refers to examining test scores on a more macro level, I think that the issue and resolution apply on a regional and school-to-school micro level as well.  One school administrator I spoke with recently expressed an (unsubstantiated) belief that many schools fudge the numbers and even correct students’ answers on tests to boost their numbers.  I tend to think that this sort of sentiment is simply sour grapes and reflects more on the accuser than the accused.  Still, having peripherally been involved with several colleges in their race for a high standing in the US News and World Report annual college rankings, I know that there are tremendous political/economic pressures on educational institutions to present themselves in the best possible light, and that some people react more ethically under pressure than others.

So more on the test scores question as I learn more.  In the meantime, I was able to find one answer so far.  Private schools, because they do not receive government funding, are exempt from having to subject their students to standardized testing.

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One Response to “Are Elementary School Test Scores Important?”

  1. Tim Says:

    Personally, I am looking at test scores as an initial threshold for whether we should consider sending our kids to a particular school. I’d be uncomfortable with a school where significant numbers of students were not meeting proficiency standards. I’m not sure exactly how I would quantify “significant,” but I think that a school that fell more than a few points below the state average would concern me, especially in the earlier grades before kids start to leave for Masterman and private options.

    Luckily, the local elementary school for our catchment (Cook-Wissahickon in Roxborough) has test scores that are very good. More than 80 percent of the third and fourth graders there were proficient in reading, math and science in the most recent round of tests. So now it’s a matter of whether all the less tangible factors about a school make it seem like a good fit for our son — we’re hoping to visit soon.


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