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Do Test Scores Reveal Good Teachers?
by Susan Dermond
Susan Dermond
The testing trend sweeping the nation has its roots in real problems in schools. Children are not succeeding, sometimes due to low expectations on the part of teachers. Certainly, schools need to be accountable.

However, the extreme emphasis presently being put on measuring success only in terms of academic outcomes is alarming to many educators. Tests measure ever smaller, more incomprehensible bits of knowledge out of context.

Research has shown that ability to score high on tests is not a predictor of success in life, whether that success is measured on the scale of material prosperity (future salary earned), or the much more important scale of happiness, health, or peace of mind. Rather, scoring high on tests is a predictor of only one outcome, and that is the ability to make good grades in college and to score high on other tests!

In college I had a friend whose major was in a different field from my own. She was consistently making C’s on tests in one course. The teacher advised her that she needed to consult published research. She spent hours in the library searching for the needed research to no avail. When asked why she didn’t just ask a librarian for help, she admitted that she would be mortified to admit that she didn’t already know how to find this research in her major field! Due to her lack of self-confidence she continued to make C's rather than get the help she needed.

I thought about my friend years later when I took a group of sixth-graders to get ice cream. After the group had their complicated order of flavors and toppings filled and we were on our way out the door, one of my students came to me and said, “These candies are awful. Do you think they’ll scrape them off and give me gummy bears?”

“I doubt it,” I shrugged.

“I’ll ask,” Sarita replied.

In amazement I watched as she strode purposely up to the counter and explained that the candies tasted stale and she wanted them replaced. I had never seen an eleven-year-old more supremely confident that she could ask for and get what she wanted. Of course, the employee complied. In this child’s future it really doesn’t matter what she knows or doesn’t know. She has the self-assuredness to find out what she needs!

Which is a better predictor of future success: knowing the answers on a standardized test or having the confidence to ask questions and take risks? A basic level of literacy is essential, of course, but creative problem solving ability and ability to get along with people and work in a team are as important to achieving one’s goals as is knowledge of a particular field.

Certainly, I am not advocating throwing out testing altogether. Some limited testing of reading and computational skills is necessary to be sure children are getting basic instruction and progressing at a reasonable pace.

But in my mind a teacher’s ability to foster self-esteem, self-confidence, integration of mind, body, and spirit, and skills of cooperation and living in harmony with others, far exceeds the importance of test scores. If I were a parent considering placing my child in a new teacher’s class, I would ask the following questions.

  • Is there enthusiasm in the classroom about learning new things?
  • Are the students helpful toward each other, and do they praise each other’s efforts (following the teachers’ example) or are they fearful, overly competitive, and so insecure they resort to belittling others?
  • Does the teacher smile and make eye contact with every child several times daily?
  • Does the teacher recognize and honor strengths such as kindness, sensitivity, artistic expression, ability to cooperate with others, and originality of thought? Or are only academic achievements rewarded?
  • Are children who are physical and have high energy levels given channels to express their need for kinesthetic expression, or are they made to feel inferior because they have difficulty being still?
  • Are students focused and on task, but also relaxed and able to move about quietly?
  • When the teacher tells the children to do something or not to do something, do they have enough respect to follow instructions, and if they don’t, does the teacher ignore them or follow up immediately?

If we all jump on the bandwagon of evaluating teachers primarily by the test scores their students receive, we are supporting a system that ultimately will judge the children’s worth in the same terms. We must ask other questions about what the teachers bring to the classroom if we want administrators and legislators to know that we take the values imparted in the classroom as seriously as academic achievement.

Susan Dermond is the Director of the Living Wisdom School (K-5), and a minister of Ananda Sangha. For more information about the Living Wisdom School, call (503) 671-9112.