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Americans Say There Is More to School Success Than Test Results
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Americans Say There Is More to School Success Than Test Results

by Valerie J. Calderon

The verdict is in, and test scores are out as the ultimate measure of school effectiveness, according to more than three-quarters of U.S. adults surveyed for the 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Instead, more U.S. adults believe engagement with class work and feeling hopeful about the future are important indicators of school effectiveness.

PDK, a professional association for educators, and Gallup have partnered on this important education poll work for decades, and these current findings reveal an intense desire for a new measure of what makes schools great. About one in 10 U.S. adults say students' scores on standardized tests are very important measures of school effectiveness.

Still, test scores continue to be central to any conversation about school performance. They inform strategies on how to close the achievement gap and are a straightforward tool for reporting outcomes and comparing schools. But test scores -- as different as they may look from student to student and school to school -- fall short in helping us understand what makes schools great and students successful.

Test scores cannot be the sole common denominator by which we understand or describe diverse student bodies and school systems. School is not only where students learn and apply information, but also where they can discover and practice what they do best and learn to be a better version of themselves. Schools should be places where students are excited about learning and where they begin to build the foundation for their own unique future.

The public's overwhelming support of the importance of engagement with class work and student hopefulness about the future mirrors the direction that many schools nationwide are taking by adopting positive behavior and positive school culture programs. Many of these programs focus on noncognitive learning domains that are critical to student success.

Adding positive measures to the school effectiveness equation is a core value of the Gallup Student Poll -- an annual Web survey for fifth- through 12th-graders that measures student engagement with school and hope for the future, among other elements that help schools make students ready for the future. The results from this survey complement test scores and other metrics tracked by schools.

Like thousands of other parents around the nation, I'll soon be registering my oldest daughter for her first college entrance exam. I will encourage her to plan ahead, prepare well and perform the best that she can. But before she receives her score, I will remind her of three important truths: her value is not determined by test scores; the opportunity to do good in this world is not measured by the exam; and her potential exceeds the parameters of the exam to tell the tale of her unique talents. Remind a student of these three truths today, so they know that test scores, while important, are not the full measure of a person or an education.

Valerie J. Calderon, Ph.D., is Senior Research Consultant at Gallup.

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