You Cannot Judge Education by a Test Score

This week teachers in my school administered Pennsylvania’s state standardized assessments, the Keystone Exams. These new end-of-course exams replace the grade-level exams, the PSSAs, for high school students. This year Keystone Exams were taken for the first time and the scores count. While I expect students at the Downingtown STEM Academy will fare very well on this assessment, I do no want education to be reduced to the score.

Teachers at the Downingtown STEM Academy engage students in inquiry, problem-based learning. Our teachers are designing challenging experiential learning in STEM Pathway courses. Our teachers are also International Baccalaureate certified, and over 150 students in my school are enrolled in the IB diploma program.

One of the students at the STEM Academy scored perfect on the SATs. Many students are athletes. Many students compete in Future Business Leaders of America. Many students sing or perform in the orchestra or marching band.

Each student at the Academy will complete 150 hours of community service.

It is an unfortunate state of education that states and the federal government only define success or failure of education by a test number.

Find me one person who thinks test scores accurately account for student learning, teacher efficiency, or the success of a school. I do not think anyone believes education is reduced to a singular number.

Why, then, is so much time spent chasing a number that at most only shows a portion of everything teachers do for students and students do for themselves and the community?


7 thoughts on “You Cannot Judge Education by a Test Score

  1. Bob Hoffmann December 7, 2012 / 10:56 am

    When talking about Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) in education, we need more precise descriptions of WHAT the topic content of science is, what we DO with science, and how we APPLY it to the world around us. When I refer to “STEM” as a “table of contents”, I also recognize that the artistic methods of visualizing, writing, and finding context in culture and history are important to the process and procedures of “doing science”. So, put into the standard sentence structure, the “STEM content” is the subject, the “artistic method” is the verb, and the “real-world application” is the object.

    What we need, I believe, is a comprehensive, modularized curriculum framework, beginning with the STEM content delivered in high schools and colleges. The content of each module and lesson would be prepared by “experts”, and then packaged by instructional technologists using “best practices” for effective learning with interactive multimedia, and finally presented using open-source, online delivery channels.

    The content modules within this framework would have the STEM topics arranged in a sequence using a systems approach as one dimension. A second dimension would then be a tag or label that clearly identifies the “Basic Workplace Skill Set” needed for successful entry into several occupational levels, starting with “Home & Consumer” to “User/Operator”  and so on to “Engineer”, and “Scientist”.

    Connections with the Communication, Social, and Cultural Arts (CSCA) would be specified with the appropriate techniques, methods, and practices used in the six occupational skill levels. These processes and activities would be developed in collaboration with specialists from non-STEM areas.

    The grid would then be expanded and cross-connected with Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathways, so students could select applications and projects relevant to their career interests and preferences.

    Such a framework, then, would allow students to pursue their own pathways through the multi-dimensional learning space of possibilities along the three content, skill level, and career directions. They would also meet required standards by touching certain “milestones” along the way,. There would be flexibility to participate in collaborative classroom projects, while stepping up the proficiency ladder to advanced and related topics at their own pace, using online resources.

  2. abha December 7, 2012 / 12:16 pm

    I totally agree.Knowledge can be evaluated but what about the willingness to acquire knowledge or individual ability to impart the knowledge among the learners.personality of a person should be positive.

  3. Rob Krampf December 7, 2012 / 12:32 pm

    Adding to the problem is that many of these test questions are written by people who do not fully understand the science. Florida’s Test Item Specifications (the documents that serve as the guidelines for test writers) had HUGE science errors, including sample questions with multiple correct answers and definitions that were just plain wrong. I have been reviewing the quarterly benchmark tests given by several counties, and so far just over 20% of the questions have science errors serious enough to cause a well educated student give the wrong “correct” answer. Since these tests are usually not released afterwards, there is no way to fact check the questions for scientific accuracy.

  4. Justin Staub, Ed.D. December 7, 2012 / 6:51 pm

    Rob, you bring up a issue I’ve thought a lot about recently. Who writes these questions? Why don’t teachers sign up to do the question writing? Even if the pay is bad, at least we won’t be subjected to awful test questions.

    The American Government Keystone Exam in Pennsylvania will be written soon, and I wonder how I can sign up. Even if the money is poor, at least some of my input may impact the quality of the test.

    • Rob Krampf December 7, 2012 / 7:08 pm

      In Florida, the test questions are written by Pearson, using Test Item Specification provided by the Florida DOE. Their response to my inquiries about the errors was underwhelming, to say the least. For the questions with more than one correct answer, their response was yes, there was more than one correct answer, but the students should not know that the other answers were correct. You can read more about it on my blog post at:

      Now, with Florida teacher evaluations being tied to FCAT scores, I am amazed that no one is screaming for them to release the tests for fact checking.

  5. James Luisser December 7, 2012 / 10:09 pm

    The tests in Pa are the same as what has been described. Answers can be the most correct instead of correct. More than one answer, double negatives in the question making it difficult to answer. It appears that the tests are designed to fail students instead of test knowledge.
    The best way to improve the tests would be to have all Sec. of Ed., Superintendents, Congressmen and especially the person who came up with no child left behind take the test. If they can pass, without a lot of study since they are so intelligent, then we can all believe in the test. Until then they should be kept in a safe place, like a circular file.

  6. Mark December 12, 2012 / 9:43 pm

    Glad your share the post. Loved connecting with #ptchat. Would you have any interest in writing a guest blog for us We would be honored!

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