We are not ranked for a simple reason—the elementary and middle school rankings are based solely on specific standardized test results.
As a school, we have made the decision not to participate in regents or Common Core testing. We have no desire to have a standardized test or its results drive our instruction or our student learning. We want our children to love learning for the sake of learning, thus creating what we hope are lifelong learners. And we want control over what we teach and how and when we teach it. It’s the beauty of an independent school.
The absence of both “teaching to the test” and of having instruction time consumed by test preparation drives interest in our school during admissions season and is consistently mentioned by incoming parents as one of the reasons why they have chosen our school for their children. Parents want their kids to love coming to school and to learn in an environment that takes a broad view of education, including character education, service learning, outdoor education, public speaking, and an emphasis on creative thinking. I know it’s what I want for my kids.
But there are drawbacks to not participating. While it can drive interest in our school, it can also create confusion around our outcomes. We often have to explain to interested parents that we are not ranked because we don’t participate in the testing. And some parents love rankings—school rankings, class rankings, teacher rankings, etc. They have a need to quantify, and who can blame them? We all want help in making the best decisions for our children. But do these rankings really do that? Do standardized test results really tell you which school is best? According to this criteria, one could argue that ranking schools based on standardized test results is really just ranking schools by which has the best group of test takers.
I would argue that good schools should focus more on creating a culture where students feel comfortable, feel known, and feel some form of self-determination. These are basic human needs and without these being satisfied, children cannot learn. On top of that, schools should focus on teaching children how to think creatively around problems and how to do so with other people. In my opinion, these are skills every adult needs to function in the workplace—no matter what the field.
Our school focuses on these essentials, which is not to say that we don’t teach reading, writing and arithmetic (among a slew of other academic disciplines and extracurriculars). But weaving creativity and collaboration into a rigorous academic program is a big part of what makes us a great school.
As a result of focusing on what matters, our kids do really well. They get into the high school of their choosing and they earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in merit scholarship money each year doing it. And guess what else? Our students do really well on standardized tests, too. No, we don’t participate in regents or Common Core testing, but we do administer nationally-normed standardized tests (a requirement of our accreditation) to appropriate grade levels—the ERB Comprehensive Testing Program and the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test. The results are used internally to inform our curriculum decisions.
While we don’t spend time preparing our students for the tests, we get great results nonetheless. By the time our students reach eighth grade, 75% score in the top quartile and almost half score in the top 10% nationally in both math and verbal reasoning on the ERB’s. On the Otis Lennon test, the average score is 100. The average score of our students is 119, which places them in the top 14% nationally.
To me this proves that when a school focuses on the right things—culture, creativity, and collaboration—in addition to strong academics, the test results take care of themselves.