There are several factors that determine the quality of public school districts, and the results of standardized test score are NOT one of them.
What to look for:
How old are the public school buildings? It isn’t easy to teach or learn in buildings with roofs that leak, old moldy carpets, overcrowded classrooms, et al.
Funding is another important factor. Too many public school districts are not getting the funding they need to update and maintain infrastructure, keep class sizes low (12 to 20 in a class. It’s okay to have less than 12 but no more than 20) and hire the best teachers. In crowded, aging classrooms, teachers often become overwhelmed and face burnout, one of the major factors for high teacher turnover.
“Funding is always an issue for schools and is, in fact, one of the biggest issues facing the American public education system today. For more than 90% of K-12 schools, funding comes from state and local governments, largely generated by sales and income taxes.”
A high rate of child poverty in a school district is also a challenge. Children living in poverty, in every country, have problems learning because… well, they live in poverty.
“Students living in poverty often have fewer resources at home to complete homework, study, or engage in activities that helps equip them for success during the school day.”
Teacher quality is also an important factor. There is no uniform method in the United States to train teachers. In some states, a high school dropout with a GED is allowed to teach. In others, to teach, you need a four year, or more, college degree.
The worst teacher training in the United States is probably from Teach for America. The best are urban residency programs.
TFA trains their future teachers in a few weeks with little or no time practicing, under supervision, in a classroom with real students.
Urban residency teacher training programs often run for an entire school year, full time in a classroom with a master teacher and college classes required to earn a credential through this program are held after regular school hours and during summers.
In The Teacher Wars, by Dana Goldstein, in one chapter, the author goes into detail comparing the different teacher training programs.
Back to a few of the major flaws of Standardized Tests.
The only tests that are useful are teacher made tests that are not used to determine a students grade or rank teachers or schools. Teacher made tests should be used a s a tool to help teachers discover what their students are learning so the teacher can focus on what they are not learning.
“Some of the cons of standardized testing include the fact that standardized tests are unable to assess a student’s higher-level thinking skills, teachers may alter their curriculum in order to ‘teach to the test,’ and standardized tests have been shown to result in inequitable outcomes for students.”
The human brain also doesn’t work well to remember what a Standardized Test asks. Even if a teacher taught what the Standardized Tests asks, and this isn’t always the case, there is no guarantee students will remember what they were taught by the time they take these useless tests.
“There are numerous reasons to believe that high stakes standardized tests are actually quite damaging to education and have received forceful criticism over the past dozen years as a result. Examples include their propensity to drive out teachers, encouraging teaching “to the test” as well as increasing grade retention and school dropout rates, all of which question the imposition of high quantities of standardized tests throughout a student’s school career.”
Still, what can parents do?
Well, parents may learn how long the average teacher stays in their job in a school district, what the annual teacher turnover rate is, and with a bit more digging, find out if a public school district’s admisntration is obsessed with standardized tests OR supports teachers to teach over the damn tests.
Hint: Parents aren’t going to learn this from the administrators. You have to ask involved parents and teachers, when no administrators are around.