Choosing Schools by Test Scores

When families look for new schools they often want to see test scores to evaluate options.  Why?  What do test scores tell us?  And what don’t they tell us?   If a class at a school boasts high scores on a test, does that tell us that a particular child will test well?  That s/he will have a better chance of getting into an elite university?  A particular child’s scores are, in no way, influenced by the test scores of the school, the district, or those of his/her classmates except in so far as they are an indicator of other characteristics of the peer group, which we all know is influential. 

Scores on the SAT test given for college admissions in the United States correlate with parental level of income and education.  Do parents need test scores to know they are buying a house in an affluent area?  Aren’t housing prices sufficient?  Tutoring for SAT tests can raise scores nominally, and affluent parents can afford to have their children tutored, further enforcing a correlation that existed even before tutoring became popular. 

 Unlike the SAT admissions test, certain standardized tests do reflect the teaching that takes place at school, but the average score is effected more by raising the floor than by raising the ceiling.  Does it really matter to the parent of a bright child if a school or school district boasts high scores on a minimal competency test on which their own child will score exceedingly well?  If teachers “teach to the test” to improve scores, is their child losing out on more interesting and creative curriculum that he could be learning?

Test scores can be one measure of school quality, but are only useful when viewed within a larger context. 



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