The Washington State Board of Education is asking for citizen input on how they should "measure the performance of Washington K-12 schools." They want to improve the Washington Acheivement Index, which provides a snapshot of how schools perform on state tests.
The WAI is not very user-friendly, but I found a way to pull up data comparing three Seattle Middle Schools in the areas of low-income writing, math, reading, and overall low-income improvement. The chart is obtuse. Lines of colors corresponding to each school stretch from one year to the next, and you don't know what the line refers to until you hover your cursor over it - "Eckstein low-income math," for example, will briefly show up, but disappears once you try to figure out what the next line is for.
Because you have to hover the cursor to identify each line's meaning, it's hard to look at the graph's eight lines and see any real information. They're just colorful lines.
I took the survey, because it's important teachers and parents have a voice in how things are done. I encourage you to take it too.
The survey deals solely with test data, and how you'd like to see it publicized so that you can measure a school's worth. Since the WAI deals with student achievement, and claims to "try to present a clear picture of how schools and districts are performing," I'd like our Board of Education to start valuing other forms of achievement than simply test scores, and I said so in the comment box.
For example, I spent a day touring a school that wins awards for its test scores. What I saw made me reconsider the role test scores should play in how we design our curriculum. I saw excellent, caring teachers. I saw very well behaved children sit quietly, listen, and sometimes answer. I didn't see them engage, pursue their own path, or create anything. I didn't see them problem solve, wrangle with complex ideas, or get excited about their learning. There was no "productive chaos" that resulted in moments of discovery. I think the curriculum is too prescriptive and the test objectives too urgent to allow teachers to create those risky moments. Students do well on tests, but when I compare it to other schools with rich and sometimes chaotic learning environments, I think I'd rather have my daughters in the latter.
True, my daughters are not low-income and their parents are highly educated, but here's the thing - if I want my daughters in a rich and engaging learning environment, why are we expecting low-income students to learn, first and foremost, how to do well on tests? Is that really equitable?
I'd like to see an achievement index that gathers data on some other forms of achievement. I'd like there to be a portfolio component, where students gather evidence of their own mastery of content. I'd like there to be a creative component, where schools that allow students to master the arts and athletics are acknowledged.
As a parent and a teacher, I don't measure my child's academic achievement with her test scores, and I didn't choose her elementary school because of its state assessment scores. I wanted her to be in an environment that celebrated lifelong learning, that celebrated her curiosity as a child, that would teach her to be an independent learner and that would help her love school. It's too bad that we've lost sight of those important qualities in our efforts to close the achievement gap, and it's too bad that no one is trying to ensure low-income students have access to the things I put as priorities for my children.