Boston officials should stop slandering their own schools

Test scores do not define the quality of a school

LAST MONTH SAW the tragic spectacle of top Boston school officials saying two high schools should be closed because of falling enrollment and so-called “academic challenges.” But students, parents, and teachers with direct, first-hand experience of those schools painted a completely different picture.

It was an extreme example of a distorted process happening throughout the Boston Public Schools and all of Massachusetts schools: equating test scores with school quality.

The state system for rating schools depends heavily on test scores They’ve added some other things, but it’s still mostly test scores or measures derived from test scores. Boston’s own “school quality framework,” although it’s much better than the state system, is also strongly dependent on test scores.

Almost everyone now agrees that test scores do not reflect school quality.

In Boston, open-enrollment high schools have an extra problem because nearly a quarter of high school students are in exam schools, and all of those students are “above average” test takers.

So the rest of the schools automatically have “below-average” test takers. They may be brilliant, and you heard from quite a few brilliant students here in November and December, but most of the students at these schools are “below average” test takers, at least when the test is in English.

Boston is blaming and punishing open-enrollment schools for having open enrollment.

The Boston Public Schools central office continues to tell parents that “this school is not high quality” – based mostly on test scores. What parent wants their child to get a “low-quality” education? So then you punish them some more when enrollment goes down.

Here’s what I say to Boston school officials: Please stop slandering your own schools. Look at what actually happens inside.

It’s a good start that Boston is part of the Mass. Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, a group of districts developing better approaches to evaluating schools.

The consortium is not trying to figure out whether Boston Latin is a better or worse school than Boston Arts Academy or Charlestown High School, which is a meaningless comparison. The consortium is trying to help all three school communities look at their strengths and weaknesses and work to become better.

At the December 19 Boston School Committee meeting, Michael O’Neill talked about the “inadequacies” of the state system.

We hope he will join us in working to replace the current state accountability system with one based on the work of the consortium.

Meet the Author

Lisa Guisbond

Analyst, FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing
In the meantime, please stop slandering your schools, Boston. You are hurting children.

Lisa Guisbond is the executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a 37-year-old public education advocacy organization.