Universal Screening – Understanding the Power Behind School-Wide Testing Systems

Universal Screening – Understanding the Power Behind School-Wide Testing Systems

K-16 School Testing is moving nationwide as schools across the country adopt strategies that make sense politically and financially.

Receiving federal funding for school diversity bonuses, Race Education Policies (arya), and “Individuals with Disabilities” (IDE) Grant has added up to a new wrinkle in the misunderstood concept of “universal” school reform. But do these new influences mimic the old models completely? No, not entirely.

The new additions to the school-wide testing system are designed to measure academic performance of students, not their social-economic status. But do school rankings tell the whole story?

To fully understand how and if these new influences in the school rankings system will impact your child’s education, it’s important to take a look at what standardized testing measures and how they are currently implemented.

Federalization of Testing and its intended impact on School Rankings

The testing that students are now required to take in schools across the country is administered by states and funded by them under the No Child Left Behind Act. This act established a uniform nationwide standard for learning, referred to as the Nation’s Report Card. Adopted in 2001, each school and its students are measured and graded nationally. The results of the testing are then compiled, standardized and sent out to parents, giving parents a clearly defined picture of how well their children are doing throughout the nation.

The results of the standardized testing in the No Child Left Behind era has been showing that despite gains for minority students in recent years, there are big differences in performance highlights across states. These differences can be explained by the varying requirements for testing.

Generally speaking, elementary students in states that required testing during grades K-4 must comply with the same set of standards as their peers in other states. Classes are generally taught to the same standards. Next comes high school, where there are many states that have specific testing programs in place. Students are again tested to conform to the national guidelines established for their grade level.

The biggest difference in today’s school rankings is that there is an attempt to compare the academic performance of schools based on commonality versus competitiveness in test scores. It is a way to show who the stronger and weaker schools are, in a way that it is not obvious from looking at the state-wide rankings.

How do the school rankings relate to parents?

The biggest impact that all of these reports have on parents is to shed light on the academic climate of schools. It is a key tool for parents to assess the possibility of sending their children to one of the schools. What’s good to one’s hometown, bad to another.

Before we talk about how parents can interpret school rankings, let’s first address the concept of what these reports are all about. They are designed to give parents important, impartial information on how well their neighborhood schools are doing. The information is produced by teachers and school staff members from those schools.

Sometimes test prep or other services are provided to help parents have a clear picture of how well their children are doing. This service is designed to help parents see that the schools their children are in are not only good, but are ahead of other schools in the area. The other benefit of these tools is that parents can begin to evaluate if their children’s prospects are as good as they think they are.

So how do parents benefit with regard to interpreting school rankings?

There are a number of steps parents can take to be successful at using school rankings in order to guide their decision-making. Parents can begin by being aware that test preparation is included in the registration process for schools rated by higher than average scores in school rankings. Clear understanding of how rankings work and the information it produces are important steps starting point. Other steps include filling out those rankings, providing honest feedback for both parents and teachers on how well their children are doing, and having a dialogue about what the school offers that is a good fit for their child.

There is no “magic potion” to preventing parents from being turned off by negative school rankings. But understanding how and why they occur is important in order to anticipate and perhaps learn from future shifts in the perception of schools. In short, it is an information website. You cannot control it or influence it. But you can always control what you give to it.