Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Third Grader is Not Responsible for Your Property Value

The test scores from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) were recently published and one of the schools in my neighborhood had lower scores than expected by many in the community. It sparked a discussion among many groups about test scores, testing, teaching, leadership, expectations, etc.

What bothered me about some of the conversations that I heard was how often the talk drifted to matters of personal profitability that were peripheral to the subject of education itself. For example, many of those who said that the test scores were "lower than they should be for our community" would often speak about how the test scores negatively affected their property values and even our ranking and competitiveness as a city, state and nation. It troubles me that we are putting so much pressure on our children so that we may sell our houses for more money or have a better Gross National Product.

I know there is no one answer to the question "what is the purpose of education?". My answer may sound quite different from yours. To me, the purpose of education is to raise informed, interested, empowered, creative, tolerant, active citizens. It is to help a child uncover their strengths and talents and interests allowing them to use these skills to make a living, to enjoy life, and to serve others. Education should be a time of wonder and discovery. It should be challenging and enjoyable. I don't think the main purpose of education should be about high test scores or money. I know that test scores directly and indirectly impact jobs, politics, housing prices, and global competitiveness among other things, but it worries me that we will allow the importance of these things to eclipse the importance and purpose of education and change it for the wrong reasons. Is this the tail wagging the dog?

It doesn't seem unreasonable to want high property values (or to keep your job or political office) and to even take steps to ensure our schools help boost them. But if that causes us to focus solely on test scores rather than a broader method of assessment, we may certainly have better test scores and higher housing prices in our neighborhood - for awhile. But we will also see more teacher dissatisfaction leading to burnout at being forced to teach to the test. We will see further erosion of areas that are not tested but are an integral part of life and education, like the arts, recess, physical education, foreign languages, and even enough time to eat lunch at a reasonable pace. We will get higher drop out rates with kids that cannot cope with the pace or narrowed scope of learning. I am convinced that when we mechanize education and squeeze out all of the beauty and individuality to produce a test score that is satisfactory to many who stand to profit from it, even the test scores themselves will not rise in a sustainable way.

It has been said so many times by experts, teachers, students and parents with support by studies and anecdotal evidence that a balanced education with the arts, movement, and languages boost learning, motivation, and satisfaction. It doesn't seem like the people who create policy and foist it on our schools are really listening to that though. I really do think they have good intentions, but it does seem like their motivation and understanding may influence policy in a way that does not truly serve the students. Though that may seem subtle, it can bring disastrous results. If you stand to profit in some way from a higher test score, are you really impartial and acting in the best interest of students? At the very least you should be very open to following the advice of others who are in a far better position to know what is best for students.

I am not suggesting we swing the pendulum back completely away from accountability and back to the uneven and unchecked quality of the past, but I do think we have gone much too far with the accountability movement. There has to be a middle path and we can learn from other systems and cultures that successfully follow a middle path. At any rate, please do not rest the responsibility of your property values and the economy on the shoulders of my nine-year old son. That is not a burden he is prepared to carry, nor should he be expected to do so. In the words of Peach from Finding Nemo: "Isn't there another way? He's just a boy!"


  1. Great post! I was one of those low test score takers as a child. I see the arts being squeezed out of our public schools - at least in those where test scores are highly valued. Recess and eating have already been shaved to a minimum.

    Boys, English Language Learners, Special Ed. and Low Income kids have lower test scores. Those posts you referred to made me feel like those kids are not welcome in our schools.

    Something that I have to mention is that our nation continues to produce some of the most innovative, creative, intelligent and profitable people in the world. And a lot of them didn't score perfectly on standardized tests.

  2. Regarding good intentions: the results of your actions show your true intentions. Re caring about property values: that shouldn't be a consideration in education, at all.

    We can't multi-task, right? There is no such thing. The jack of all trades is indeed a master of none... and education is way too important to hand over to someone who doesn't have 100% focus on it. Which, I believe, is exactly what we've done ... bureaucrats have their eye on too many things outside their supposed specialty to be good at any one thing ... a truly good educator, one who really understand education, has spent an entire lifetime steeped in it. Although as they say, there's a "master" born every minute, but where is the sincere disciple?

    Americans have gotten so far out of line with our materialism that even most of us who are looking for something more have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees ... the value in life that has nothing to do with acquisition. Property taxes? They shouldn't be considered! IMHO :)

  3. I've always felt uncomfortable about these tests. Where is the Happiness test? The well adjusted test? The thoughtful child test?

    Your article reminded me of this incident regarding housing prices:

    (Vintage, £9.99) ★★★★
    ONE recent Christmas Eve, Douglas Rushkoff was mugged in his Brooklyn neighbourhood. It was an up-and-coming area. So he did something public-spirited – he logged on to his local website and posted a note warning other residents of the threat. You’d think they’d be pleased. They weren’t. They were angry. They thought it might adversely affect property prices. Money, Rushkoff realised, is distorting our values: “We look to the DowJones average as if it were the one true vital sign of our society’s health.”

  4. Tracy,
    I love this post and totally agree with all your points. I feel the same way about allowing our kids to be kids. I always tested well but truthfully couldn't tell you what I was studying or talking about ever. I never thought standardized tests were a good measure of anything.

  5. I totally agree with you. I don’t think test scores are the only indicator that can show how a state or country is going. What if these kids do have all the brains and high test scores but don’t have any idea on how they would be facing life. The real world is not all about text books right? I think they should also focus on helping the children have strong will to face life’s challenges. There are many successful people in the industry that didn’t had good grades then but are now contributing a lot for the society. I’ve known some people who have taken online MBA program and was not one of those A-students, but is now working for a top company. Just like you said, children are just, well, kids. They deserve to have fun and healthy childhoods. It will help them grow to be a better person.

  6. "Education is to Help a child uncover their strengths and talents and interests allowing them to use these skills to make a living" - This are best lines which i never read about education, i total agree with your opinions about education.
    In my opinion present education produce the well trained professional but it's failure to produce the well educated professional.

  7. "...the purpose of education is to raise informed, interested, empowered, creative, tolerant, active citizens."

    The powers that be don't want this, they want obedient workers who are educated just enough to do a menial job and complete whatever paperwork that comes with it. They don't want educated, well informed people capable of critical thinking; that isn't in business' interest; hence reality shows and the overall atmosphere of bread and circuses.

  8. It is unfortunate that so much emphasis is placed on test scores. As a classroom teacher, I can tell you a lot of time is devoted to preparing children for those tests - time which could be better spent on so many other things!
    I was encouraged to read that many of the universities are considering revising how they evaluate prospective students, placing less weight on test scores and more on personal essays. This is a change I would love to see!

  9. It is sad that this country is based on testing and test scores. There is much more to the students and the teacher than high test scores. The system that is set up for funding is unfair, especially towards schools in area of poverty. To make sure children are receiving the education they deserve, America needs to increase funding nationwide. Most schools receive money from property taxes and test scores. In wealthy areas with high test scores, those schools receive more money. It seems that America is favoring certain school districts that have smart, wealthy children and leaving other schools with little money. Schools in areas of poverty barely receive money from property taxes therefore; they have little money to pay for teachers and supplies. Fewer teachers led to larger class sizes. Classrooms that are jam packed with 30 students to one teacher are harmful to the students and teacher. With so many students and limited resources, teachers are restricted in the activities they can lead. In addition, students rarely receive one on one attention and teachers are overwhelmed. These teachers end up being unmotivated with lots of students, little supplies, and little pay checks; the outcome is low test scores. I definitely think there should be a better way to fund schools than based on test scores.

  10. Great points all of you make. I agree, the system is set up to favor the wealthy and punish the poor. It may not be the intent, but it is certainly the outcome.