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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why test scores matter

Standardized test scores matter, writes Ryan Williams-Virden,  dean of students at Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Collegiate High School, on Education Post. “Instead of criticizing test results or encouraging students to opt out, I believe we should focus on actually teaching students the skills they need to be successful, on and beyond the test.”

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He started teaching at a school that exempted students from tests and gave them credit for showing up. “I saw our students’ brilliance every day,” writes Williams-Virden. But only a few graduates went on to remedial community college courses, while the rest settled for low-skill, low-wage jobs.

He switched to a college-prep school with high expectations for students and teachers, but little regard for standardized test scores.

We told students they were being prepared for college, and we believed it. But then graduates went off to college only to drop out or come back and report that they were struggling. . . . Despite our hard work, many of our students simply did not have the literacy skills they needed to access texts nor articulate their analysis of those texts in writing—the very skills that tests, even if imperfectly, are designed to measure. We had told many of these students that they were ready, that they were “good” students. We told their parents the same. They took out loans based off those assurances. But the students weren’t ready, their scores told us so, and they and their families are paying for it—literally.

Standardized tests don’t measure everything that’s important, writes Williams-Virden. But “they do measure a basic literacy level necessary in order for students to effectively pursue their passions.”

. . . the difference between a 17 and a 23 on the ACT, or “meets” and “does not meet” on the MCA, is tremendous. I have taught many brilliant students who did not meet state standards, and who went on to drop out of or struggle in college. This does not mean those students are not brilliant, but it does mean that our education system failed to give them all the skills they needed to succeed.

For all their shortcomings, “standardized tests results are solid predictors for how kids will do after high school,” Williams-Virden concludes. “They help hold us educators accountable in a way that we need.”

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