Multidimensional, not multiple choice

I am writing in response to my friend Saria Kraft’s article on the significance of standardized test scores and our school district’s lack of enthusiasm for posting them on the Internet. And I want to express my empathy for Saria’s friend, Ms. Taksen, who had to make an $800,000 investment based on the average test scores of other people’s children at a school she knew nothing else about.

Saria raised a number of very important questions but, unfortunately, did not use her investigative zeal to pursue any of them. Instead, she focused on the same, simplistic, one-dimensional issue of standardized testing that is dominating our polititians’ public discourse. I expect this flight from complexity from our elected officials as they attempt to posture themselves as “zero tolerance” on this and “tough” on that. But I hope for more from Saria and The Malibu Times.

First of all, I absolutely agree that public schools have a responsibility to communicate with the public. We work very hard at regularly sharing all of our knowledge and insights about our students with their parents, and they are entitled to nothing less. It is very difficult, however, to capture the progress, successes, and shortcomings of the whole group of students at our school and somehow communicate that mosaic to the public at large. That is why test scores have pre-empted the field and why Ms. Taksen had no better source of information. Schools have not been able to develop a truly meaningful system for assessing and reporting students’ progress, so politicians have stepped into the void and given us the appearance of accountability.

Here are my ideas for Saria’s next investigative series:

1. It turns out that Webster’s and Point Dume’s are almost all higher than those listed for the Las Virgenes School District, and Cabrillo’s are comparable. How can we then determine what the impact of these average scores would be on Ms. Taksen’s child were she to enroll at a Malibu school or a Las Virgenes school? In other words, does an individual child learn more at a school where the other children got more multiple choice questions right on the most recent test?

2. Compare average test scores with the average price of homes in each school’s attendance area. You may find that simply by knowing the socio-economic status of the student body at a school, you can predict the test scores. This will make it unnecessary for schools to post them, and the home-buyers can deal directly with their realtors.

3. The list of things the state of California requires us to report to the public was quite impressive. How can we get the state to provide funding for the people we have to hire to compile and report all of that information? You can’t be against big government bureaucracies and be in favor of a laundry list of state-imposed requirements. If my staff and I did everything the state Deptartment of Education wanted, I would do little else.

4. Parents at local schools know what makes their schools special and wonderful, and where they need to improve. How can school communities truly assess their students’ progress on the things that matter most and report those results to the public? This is the question that really cries out for intelligent and creative solutions. As luck would have it, this is a really tough one without a multiple choice answer.

Phil Cott


Webster Elementary School

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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