Test Scores Can Matter

I read over Couros's (July 13, 2017) Looking Beyond the Score and I believe I agree with his overall thesis, but admit I would frame it in a slightly more nuanced way.  I identify several potential problems to consider when forming possible solutions to how we assess learners in formal education.

Google's Expectations

Google finds that GPAs and test scores are worthless as a criteria for hiring and that they do not predict anything… "after two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how yo performed when you were in school…"

To this, I ask the following:

  • What percentage of any student body goes on to work for Google?
  • What do Google's hiring practices say about the valid, reliable, and unbias nature of standardized exams used in schools?
  • To what degree do curriculum, assessment, and instruction align with each other within a particular school?
  • What's the ratio of formative to summative forms of assessment? Do schools favor one over the other?
  • To what degree do standardized exams measure both ability and aptitude?
  • What other types of decisions do school supervisors, principles, etc. make based on standardized exams results?

Couros's Claims

High test scores in school do not equal success in that area.  There are many other factors that need to be considered.

I would say that high test scores could be one of many contributing factors that lead to (some definition) of success.  This is different than saying unequivocally that scores do not equal success.  Just using the word, success, conjures up a vast array of potential meanings that are important to understand when discussing such a complex subject.

I have met many leaders in education who know all the theory but can't connect with people.

When recognizing the difference between theory and practice, I tend to shift the problem from only being about standardized exams to entertaining the possibility that other issues might exist:

  1. Standardized exams (both internal and external) may not be valid, reliable, and unbiased in representing learners' knowledge, understandings, abilities, and dispositions. Do teachers teach to the test (bad) or help prepare learners for the concepts that test items are supposed to measure (good)?  For more on this distinction, see Popham's (2007) Classroom Assessment
  2. The curriculum, assessment, and instruction may not align with each other.
  3. The curriculum may not explicitly reflect a learner profile that contributes to society.
  4. Formative assessment may take a "back seat" to summative forms of assessment (i.e., standardized exams).
  5. Standardized exams may not measure both ability and aptitude.
  6. All decisions made based on standardized exams results may not lead to improving learning outcomes throughout the entire institution.

Improving test scores is one piece of a complex puzzle designed to prepare learners for improving society.  If attempting to improve test scores fits students into a box, then perhaps the solution is not to disregard the potential value of what exams could measure – in terms of decisions made to improve ongoing student achievement. The solution is to not remove standardized exams or grades altogether, but rather to understand the six points above in recognizing the complexity of establishing the role of assessment in schools.  I agree, there is more to life than test scores, but this does not mean that test scores do not have a place in formal education.