When Parents Lead, Children Succeed

B2W Radio - Why Test Scores Can Be Misleading, pt 2

B2W Radio - Why Test Scores Can Be Misleading, pt 2

Hosted By:
Elane V. Scott
Featured Guest:
Jim Cox

“Education is a people profession. Not a program profession.” – Jim Cox

Dear Valued Stakeholders,

Taking tests of any kind has to be right up at the top of the list of life’s most stressful experiences. Your heart may pound, your hands may sweat...then you get to the test site and the room has no air conditioning, so you’re overheating. Finally you get around to taking the test but you’re unfamiliar with the format and half the questions are about things you haven’t even studied. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Now consider that the results of the test you are taking actually won’t affect you. They affect your teacher…your school…the school district. Now you don’t really care so much, so you start filling in “C” all the way down the answer column. But what you don’t realize is that it’s the cumulative results of these tests that will yield numbers used to evaluate the performance of educators. The results of standardized test scores determine the rank that every school gets locally, regionally, and nationally. So how can the true quality of instruction offered by a school be fairly evaluated given all these outside factors? Our returning guest, Jim Cox, has been a teacher and student in the world of education and statistics for 40 years. And he asked the same question.

When schools started getting assigned labels such as “best” or “worst” (mostly by the media) based on reported test scores, the schools that scored the highest were automatically titled “the best” and the ones that scored the lowest were called “the worst”. But Jim realized from his own experience that that was not a fair corollary. The issues noted above (physical environment, test taking attitudes of the students and teachers, familiarity with the material, and test-taking ability) are four of the six variables that come together to produce student test scores and, ultimately, produce the score that a school gets. The fifth variable is demographics. Not socio-economic demographics, but things such as the percentage of non-English speakers or special education students that take standardized test and, therefore, affect school averages. The sixth reason test scores come out the way they do is quality of instruction. So the continuum “best schools = highest test scores” is not accurate.

In our conversations on this program with Jim, our goal was to provide some critical insights into the hidden world of test taking and why test scores alone can’t help us plan for the future. Why then do we put so much attention on them? Because test scores are half of the data picture needed to DO something to improve long-term performance. Just what are the TWO types of data that are crucial to performance improvement? The first type is test scores; better known as outcome data. The second type of data is process data. Process data describes the quality of the programs and steps taken to improve performance. Test scores may be a status report of what knowledge or capabilities someone had at a particular moment in time, but they do not help us know anything about the quality of preparation or programs that the test taker experienced before taking the test. That process data is critical because it’s only the process that can be changed in the future.

What do we mean by process data versus outcome data? What we need to know to improve academic test scores, or any scores for that matter, is really about the process of how we prepare ourselves and about the environment we are tested in. We discuss the quality of programs, measures of success, and what we mean when we talk about the characteristics of a high quality program.

No stakeholder leader’s understanding of how to attract and retain quality citizens, businesses, education institutions or other major services in a community would be complete without an ability to understand how to continuously improve the quality of programs that serve them. Here is how.

Elane V. Scott

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