Way too much is made of standardized test scores. Public officials worry over them the way a hypochondriac frets about his bowel movements. Politicians point to them as if they were the pronouncements of Moses. School officials anticipate their public unveiling as a condemned man awaits his own execution.
All of this is more than passing odd. At their best, standardized tests indirectly measure trivial things. They tell us nothing at all about whether schooling is having a positive impact on the way children will live their lives.
Many admit the weaknesses of high stakes tests, but still argue for their administration. They say, “We need some measure of school effectiveness.” But there already are widely available measures that offer a much better measure of educational progress. All we need do is start monitoring them.
Let's call this compilation the Index of Leading Educational Indicators. Here is a preliminary list. Keep in mind, it is tentative and subject to amendment.
• THE NIELSON RATINGS
Here is an enormously powerful index of schooling's effectiveness. Count the number of adults regularly viewing, say, professional wrestling, for example, and we are measuring how badly schooling has failed. The same thing applies to "Jerry Springer." The higher his Nielsons, the gloomier we should be about the nation's schools. If, on the other hand, viewership is high for, say, National Geographic Specials, History Channel or Discovery Channel, there is reason for optimism.
• CD AND MUSIC VIDEO SALES
Here I’m thinking of keeping tabs on the sales figures of various musical artists and genres. Like the popularity of paintings of Elvis on black velvet, it reveals a great deal about schooling’s success. We could, for example, compare gangsta rap music sales with classical music sales. Our schools surely have failed miserably if most consumers prefer Snoop Doggy Dog to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Biggy Small to Frederick Chopin.
• CULT MEMBERSHIP
Every Jonestown resident who eagerky swigged lethal Cool Aid represented a schooling failure. So did the men in David Koresh's cult who allowed Dave to sexually service their wives and daughters because, as Koresh patiently explained to them, he was the only man pure enough for the job. And what about the schooling of that Heaven's Gate crowd who had themselves castrated to conform with "Bo" and "Peep's" teachings, then "left their containers" to rendezvous with a space ship concealed behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Maybe all such followers should have repeated first grade.
• SUPERMARKET TABLOID SALES
The sales figures of these grotesque gazettes provide a far more valid measure of educational progress than anything ETS could dream up. I'm talking about those papers that headline things like "WOMEN COMMITS SUICIDE IN DISHWASHER!", or "HALF BOY, HALF DOLPHIN WASHES UP ON BEACH!" Of course, tabloid sales figures are an inverse measure of educational progress.
• THE POPULARITY OF SHADY TELEVANGELISTS
The income figures of bunko artist TV preachers, available from the IRS Tax Exempt Branch, are a sure measure of schooling's effectiveness. The more money they make, the less well our schools have done. Consider the chap who lapses into "trances" while conducting worship services. The Holy Spirit then allegedly uses the preacher's vocal apparatus to speak to the congregation. The reverend claims he has no idea what the Spirit says. He has to ask the congregation after he regains consciousness. The amount of money sent to guys like this should be monitored carefully because it is an inverse measure of school effectiveness.
• THE POPULARITY OF FORTUNE TELLERS AND PSYCHICS
Imagine visiting a psychic to decide who and when you should marry, if the one you love loves you, or how to make a person at a distance think of you. That many people seriously do this is a telling measure of schooling's ineffectiveness.
•THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER LIST
It’s encouraging when people read books at all. But the quality of the books on this best-sellers list testifies eloquently about schooling's success or failure. A few years ago, for example, millions of folks found it plausible to think that God had secretly constructed his own seek and find word game in the Holy Bible. The teachers of those who took The Bible Code seriously might prefer suicide over living with such failure.
•THE QUALITY OF SCHOOL REFORM PROPOSALS
Opinions on school reform provide irrefutable, if unintentional, proof that schools aren’t getting it done. Let’s keep tabs on these proposals. When they become better reasoned, more factual, less political and linked to conditions outside of school we’ll know our educational system is doing a better job.
WHO'S AT FAULT?
Such an index is more powerful than anything Educational Testing Service or Psychological Corporation can contrive. But perhaps you are thinking that schools are not exclusively, even mainly, responsible for the presently dismal state of affairs such an index would reveal. You're thinking that some people lack native intelligence and can't be well taught and that others are too lonely, angry, scared, or what have you, to think straight. So what? Educators aren’t chiefly responsible for standardized test scores either. The point is to blame some one, and it might as well be people who haven’t shown a disposition to fight back.
How about suggesting additional measures so that we can perfect this Index of Leading Educational Indicators? Post your comments here.
To examine these issues further, see articles at www.newfoundations.com