But there’s an even bigger issue, and that’s the continued unquestioning use of these test scores as a proxy for the larger picture of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. It’s a mistake repeated by countless education journalists, researchers and policy wonks. It’s a quick and easy shorthand, but it’s inaccurate and misleading.
We should just stop. Instead of saying, “Strategy X was found to have a positive affect on student achievement,” we should say “Strategy X helped raise test scores.” Instead of saying, “Technique Z led to improved reading by third graders,” we should say, “Technique Z led to improved reading test scores for third graders.”
It’s not that we shouldn’t discuss standardized test results, but we should stop pretending that they represent some larger truth. We should call them by their name — not “student achievement” or “effective instruction” or “high-quality school” but simply “scores on the standardized test.” By using lazy substitution, we end up like a tourist sitting beside the Grand Canyon looking at a handful of pebbles and imagining that those pebbles tell us everything we need to know about the vast beautiful vista that we are not bothering to see.
After all, if I told you that my child achieved great things in school this year, your first thought would not be, “Oh, good test scores!” Let’s use words to mean what they actually mean.
I spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, looking at how hot new reform policies affect the classroom.