Are Test Scores Everything? What Makes a Great School?
posted by: Susan Wells
It’s kindergarten registration time and although I no longer have a kinder, I’ve given advice to some new parents who are looking at choosing a school for their up and coming kindergarteners.
I remember what I was like when it came time to pick an elementary school for my tiny little 4-year-old. She was my world and outside of going to preschool a few mornings a week, she was not a part of the big, big world. I had to pick the perfect school – one that would give her everything.
My school search began online where schools were just beginning to post test scores and other information. (Keep in mind this was *cough* about seven years ago.) Being a new mom, I really didn’t know any parents in the area and didn’t really know how to start. I compared test scores but didn’t understand what they meant. So a few schools had A’s, a few B’s and a couple more were under that. I wasn’t sure if I should bother to look at the schools that had average to low test scores. What if my daughter had to go to one of the average schools?
I took my daughter to our neighborhood school for a visit and to enroll. The ladies in the office had very little time for us – gave me the papers to fill out and didn’t have time to answer questions. It was after school and I asked if we could take a tour. They told us we could walk around the school if we wanted to, but they didn’t have time to walk us around. Not being familiar with the school at all, we walked up and down the hallways and eventually found the gym. As we were standing there, the janitor came up and told us we were not allowed in that part of the school and had set off an alarm. He told us to report back to the office and left us standing there. We walked out never to return.Test scores didn’t matter at all at this point.
I turned to the charter school and gifted and talented school in the area. They were the sought after schools to get into and if I was going to give my daughter any chance in life, I was to get her into one of these schools and forget the rest.
My husband and I attended an informational meeting at the charter school. The principal went on and on about their test scores and how every kinder would be reading fluently by Christmas time. Impressive. I guess. This just reinforced over and over to me that they taught to the test in this school. Everything was math and reading oriented. Social studies and science alternated on an occasional schedule, but she promised they were taught at least a few days a month. Art was also squeezed in when they had time, which wasn’t very often.
I know I was supposed to be impressed, but I wasn’t. And then she shared that the kindergarten class only received a 10 minute recess and snack break during their day, adding, “they just want to learn, that they are begging us to come in off the playground.”
The final two clinchers were when the principal said “If you are fortunate enough to become one of our families,” at the end of her speech. I don’t need to be a part of a community where you start out feeling better than the rest. My final clincher was when I noticed a sign in the lunch room that said “We have had __ days of silent lunch.”
Test scores are great, but are they really everything? I worried my kid wouldn’t be allowed to be a kid if she went to that school. No balance, no talking, no running outside. She would automatically get into the college prep junior/high school. But was that really everything? So off the list it went.
My visit to the GT school wasn’t much better. No tours unless you were a confirmed a parent there. Students and parents who were guaranteed ‘in’ got to fill out paperwork in a lounge with coffee and donuts, while prospective parents had to sit in the office at a table with their papers. Strike three. I am not going to put my child in a school were you are categorized when you walk in the door.
I was really frustrated and didn’t want to visit any more schools. That summer we moved to a new neighborhood with a new neighborhood school. It seemed fine – nothing special, nothing negative. Test scores were average. I thought maybe I’d just have to be passive and go to the school that was fine.
Then on August 6th, I found a school that I hadn’t looked at yet. Their test scores weren’t amazing, but they were fine and marked as improving. On paper, this wasn’t THE school. It was fine, but not one of the big dogs. Was it ok to go to a school that didn’t have an outstanding reputation or off the charts test scores?
I dropped by just to check it out. School was less than two weeks away from starting and I figured they were already full and totally uninterested in poor little me and my child. I was wrong. The ladies in the office greeted me, gave me paperwork and explained everything perfectly. They then gave me a tour of the school, where teachers stopped and introduced themselves. I fell in love with it and could see my daughter felt comfortable. She got in and we instantly became a part of the community.
My daughter is now a fifth grader in a school who works hard for the test scores and to improve each year. But test scores aren’t everything. Well-rounded, confident and gracious students are also on their goal list. The teachers are outstanding. The building well maintained. The community very involved.
Sure, we have our problems, but nothing is perfect.
Now when I talk with new parents and prospective families and I hear them say the charter and GT schools are on the top of their list and then if they don’t get into those, they aren’t sure what they will do.
Are test scores really the only deciding factor to make a school attractive?
Are test scores and the words ‘charter’ and ‘GT’ really at the top of your list? Do they really give the big advantage?
I understand that going to public school gives the impression that your family isn’t as important or as affluent as those in private schools or charter schools. Does it really matter at the end of the school day if your child attends a regular public school or a top rated school? My kids are learning, growing and advancing and have a lot of opportunities at a “regular” public school.
Some schools are better and some are worse, but you have to get inside of them and listen to what you feel. Don’t just base everything on a test score.
What qualities of a school did or do you look at when choosing it for your child? Do you look at grades, test scores, programs, opportunities, community, inviting atmosphere, retained teachers and your instinct? What makes a school a good school?