Measuring Success in Schools Beyond Standardized Testing

This past fall, President Obama called on public schools to reduce unnecessary testing. With some students taking as many as 112 standardized tests a year, the president warned that tests shouldn't "crowd out teaching and learning." Recently, the Department of Education took the next step and outlined how states and school districts could use federal funds to help reduce testing. Measures include using funds to "audit" testing programs, improve tests, and help teachers and parents better understand the results from these tests.

These first steps in recognizing the need to reduce standardized testing in our public schools are necessary - but relatively easy ones to take. The next challenge lies with how states will use federal funding to reduce testing, while still ensuring that standards remain in place to make sure our children are learning and progressing year after year. Several states and the District of Columbia have already started to create innovative ways to measure success and hold schools accountable while ensuring that testing doesn't compete with classroom learning. These examples can be used by those who are just beginning the process of supplementing standardized testing.

In 2012, the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) implemented a sophisticated measurement tool to measure a school's overall performance without relying exclusively on standardized tests. In D.C., many of the public charter schools serve a student body that is equally or at times more disadvantaged (e.g. low income, learning disabilities) than the traditional public schools. Aside from measuring student progress and achievement on tests, our model measures a number of factors including parent satisfaction, attendance, and graduation rate to assess the performance of public charter schools. It is also adjusted, annually, using data from the previous three years, allowing parents, school leaders and education officials to better evaluate each school's academic progress. This model gives a full view of student school-wide success versus a single standardized test score.

Colorado and Massachusetts have also adopted models that take a more holistic approach in measuring a school's performance. Each model also measures specific factors unique to its state. For example, Colorado measures the progress of historically disadvantaged student subgroups while Massachusetts assesses teacher quality and discipline. Many of these tools that measure student success can be implemented around the country, and many methods have proven successful for public charter schools.

Standardized testing is not something to be removed entirely from schools, but we can all agree it should be supplemented with additional measurement methods. With the Obama Administration providing funding alternatives and encouraging states and school districts to seek out alternative measures, the stage is set for school districts and charter school authorizers to come together to share experiences and best practices in order to create a modern educational experience - one that promotes a quality education for students through teaching and learning.