In a society which focuses on accountability, what are the priorities of educational leaders? As a teacher in the same school for the past nine years, I know that our priorities and goals of the school and leadership directly rely upon one item; test scores. While accountability may not necessarily be bad for student learning, sometimes the way we get there is. Too many times I have heard leaders talk about test scores and that they need to rise but there is no follow up on how to increase the scores. If there is follow up, it often sounds like; practice taking tests, make sure students understand what they are reading so they can make the correct choice.
I have listened to teachers who work in schools who are consistently not meeting minimum standards for standardized test scores. These schools are monitored and data must be used to make every decision. An obsession with raising test scores has blinded educational leadership to one important concept; fostering great teaching that allows for students to practice creativity, critical thinking and real-world application. These characteristics for learning should be our priority in schools. If we engage students in real-world application and guide them to be genuinely interested in school, the results will follow. This may be common sense to many, especially school leaders, but I believe that educational leaders are focusing too narrowly on their school’s scores and not on guiding students to love learning and to think critically.
In an article entitled, Doublethink: The Creativity-Testing Conflict, Zhao (2012) states, “The federal government is racing to the top of standardization and standardized testing; states are working hard to make two subjects common and core for all students; an increasing number of teachers are being paid based on their students’ test scores; and students are fed with an increasingly narrow, standardized, uniform, and imagination-depleted education diet. All these measures are intended to improve students’ academic achievement, or, in plain English, test scores” (p. 26).
So what does this mean for us as the next educational leaders? Even with pressure from the government, the state or even central office, we must always do what is right for students first, and I believe that with that as our priority, the results will come. In an article entitled, Leading for Powerful Learning, Tom Vander Ark (2013) discusses a school with a majority of students in poverty. This school’s focus is not on test prep, but on student engagement. Vander Ark explains his reasoning for sharing the work of this school. He states “I wanted to share this note for three reasons 1) The Bates story suggests that school improvement starts with high expectations but it doesn’t to rely on boring test prep, 2) this note is a great example of leading for deeper learning by providing positive feedback from a school visit, and 3) the work kids do in Danville is very cool!” (Vander Ark, 2013) With that in mind, let us lead on with our priority always being what is good for students and fostering their engagement in school.
Zhao, Y. (2012, July 17). Doublethink: The Creativity-Testing Conflict. Retrieved October 5, 2015.