Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

It’s Not All About Test Scores

obriena's picture

Yesterday I wrote about the DREAM Program in San Diego’s North County, where third-graders whose teachers had training and ongoing support in incorporating the arts – puppetry, miming, acting, dancing and more – into the curriculum showed incredible improvement on standardized reading tests compared to students whose teachers did not get such training or support.

Another successful program recently came to my attention out of Auburn, Maine. There, a controversial decision to supply iPads to kindergarten students is showing promising outcomes. Students who used iPads last fall scored higher than peers who did not in nine of out 10 areas recently tested around pre-reading skills, with one area – recognizing sounds and writing letters – statistically higher.

These two programs take extremely different approaches to improving student outcomes. Yet the success of both, like the success of most education initiatives, is discussed in the same way - almost entirely in terms of standardized assessments.

While test scores are important, they are not the end-all, be-all of student learning. Both of these programs are likely developing skills that students will need to be successful in the global community, but that aren’t necessarily showing up on the standardized assessments we reference when we speak of their success.

For example, when the performing arts are integrated into a curriculum as in San Diego, students develop skills in working creatively and collaboratively. They develop performance skills (such as public speaking) and learn to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively. They reflect on their learning experiences and make connections between what they learn and life.

When young students have access to technology, they develop a fluency with it that is vital in a world that increasingly depends on it. Might early access to technology have an impact on a child’s ability to adapt to new technologies as they emerge, navigate those technologies to find the information they seek, and better evaluate whether the information they find is credible?

How do these skills show up on standardized reading and math tests? For the most part, they don’t. Yet these are the types of skills that politicians are calling for children to develop to ensure that our nation remains competitive and secure. That employers are saying they need in the workforce.

Certainly the ability to read is a requirement for future success in the global community. But when we praise programs like these, which develop so many important skills in addition to basic literacy, only in terms of their impact on test scores, we do them a disservice. Drill and kill activities can increase basic literacy skills. But these programs do so much more – and we need to ensure that those who make the budget and policy decisions that allow schools and districts to implement similar programs understand that.

Image from Infratec