Should we take credit for student performance on standardized test?

Think back to a time when someone willingly gave you credit for something you had nothing at all to do with and you took credit without correcting the person. I pretty much think this has happened to everyone at least once.  It happened to me especially as a young boy, someone will assume you did something, like picking up paper on the floor and give you credit for doing the task — even though you did not do what they think you did.  I gladly took credit without correcting them — why not let them think you did the good deed!

All across the country teachers, principals, superintendents and boards are taking credit for student performance when in fact they really have little to do with how kids perform on standardized test. Research study after research study has concluded that socioeconomic status has more to do with how well kids do on standardized test than any other factor.  Despite this fact in today’s crazy system we use those results to rate schools, teachers or principals.  We are all guilty of buying into this false premise.  This is not to say teachers or principals don’t matter — they do — but when it comes to a standardized test they have way less to do with student performance than one thinks.

I remember my parents having a conversation with my teachers around the results of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  The discussion was always the same. I did well in some areas, needed to improve in others, but overall barely above average.  It was more of a litmus test — a marker to insure you were progressing — but at no point, did I,  my teacher, nor my parents think my performance was a reflection of the school, or teacher.  It was about me…plain and simple.  I don’t know what happened? Who or how did we twisted this conversation away from the student and heaped it on the school or teachers?

Yet this is the world we now live in as a teacher or principal.  We gladly take the pat on the back from those parents, community members, board members, who want to give you credit for the performance of kids on Standardized Testing.  Yet, deep down inside you… you know as a teacher or principal you really did not have much to do with the kids performance at all.  You tell yourself, well I can take some credit because I created a good environment for learning, or choose the right curriculum, or did that professional development on implementation of standards.  All of those are important but may not have much to do with the performance of students.

I have been a Teacher, Principal, and Superintendent.  I have worked in suburban, urban and rural schools and in each setting worked tirelessly on behalf of kids. I did not change — worked hard — yet my results in each setting were different.  Not only can I not take credit for those suburban kids for doing so well — I really could not blame myself when my lower socioeconomic kids did poorly. YET in that suburban setting, I gladly took credit and sometimes compensation.  I took that pat on the back even if I may not have had much to do with how those kids performed.

Think about what this does to teachers and principals and how perverse this system has become.  If deep down you know you really have little impact on standardized test results you tend to focus on things you do have control over — like who you teach — or who is excluded from the scores — or what test taking skills you can teach — making sure kids practice with the test —  teach nothing but the test — and the list goes on and on and on.  I am in meetings with teachers and principals all the time and the obsession around testing has nothing whatsoever to do with kids — it has to do with the adults and what score they personally might get as a result of student performance.

What is really disappointing  — we really don’t talk about learning?  We don’t discuss if we are insuring kids get what they need to succeed in life.  We don’t discuss how we insure they will be lifelong learners and good citizens.  We are so focused on TESTING and how it might make me look as superintendent,  principal, or teachers.


Because we have taken credit for student performance without correcting those who were giving us credit that we have little to do with how well or poorly they did.  What we need to do is reject this whole system and be honest about what impacts student performance.  We all need to stop pretending we have something to do with the outcome and correct those who want to pat us on the back!


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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