June 11, 2018
At Houston GPS, we take student success very seriously. We believe that it must be the ultimate goal and driving force of any functional school board. And while this is a hard point to disagree with, many well-intentioned folks may disagree on exactly what student success looks like. Most of us agree that it must be something more than a single standardized test score, but what factors should we consider when we attempt to measure student success?
Any educational institution can only claim that it is effective if it is a major contributing factor in producing productive, knowledgeable, well-prepared global citizens. In the K-12 school system, this means that students should be prepared for post-secondary opportunities such as college, specialized trade certification, or the military upon graduating from high school. Not only do these post-secondary opportunities have a major impact on job/career prospects for our kids, they are also closely related to broader issues such as likelihood of voting, home ownership, and civic engagement.
An effective public school system, one that is focused on equipping students with what they need to be successful later in life, must consider – and improve – its performance on these longer-term metrics. Where are our students six years after high school graduation? How many of them have gone on to complete a 2 or 4-year college degree or vocational certification? What K-12 educational factors are closely related to longer-term success? These are the types of important questions that move the needle forward on student outcomes.
While it would be great if these were the accountability measures that were considered by the state, we still have the ability to focus on these questions at the school district level. In fact, the state has taken many steps to lower standards over the last few years by decreasing high school graduation requirements and end-of-course passing scores. If we are truly focused on the longer-term success of students, we should ensure that they master much more than these tests. We should reach a point when students are so well prepared for their next step that standardized tests are minor, isolated events during the school year, during which students demonstrate that they can easily meet the basic requirements of the state.
The amount of emphasis we are forced to put on these exams is troubling. Even more troubling is the difficulty that some students – often in our most vulnerable populations – have in reaching what really should be the floor of our expectations. And while we have to recognize that educating traditionally underserved populations presents many difficulties, we absolutely cannot afford to lower standards for some students because we haven’t figured out how to meet their needs. We must challenge, push, and change the system until it adequately prepares all students for future success.