November 14, 2014

Classwork matters, not tests, study finds

Students’ grades, attendance, and test scores were up for evaluation as part of a study by a team of researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) published this month. The lesson learned: The most important indicators of whether or not a student will be on track in high school are attendance and grades, not test scores.

The team consisted of Elaine Allensworth, Julia Gwynne, Paul Moore, and Marisa de la Torre. The study was conducted through the CCSR, a research organization that focuses primarily on education in hopes of improving school reforms in Chicago.

The researchers looked at middle school performance data of first-time ninth-grade students enrolled at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). They analyzed a number of factors, including grades, attendance, and test scores in order to predict the probability of students being on track by the end of ninth grade. The researchers defined being on track as receiving As and Bs in core courses and meeting the benchmark on the PLAN test. This standardized test is generally administered during 10th grade and serves as an indicator of a student’s performance on the ACTs.

The research found that the process to prepare students for high school success begins in middle school, but that which high school the student attends also influences the student’s success. The transition between middle school and high school is especially crucial in determining high school and college success. According to the report, students must leave middle school with a GPA of 3.0 or higher in order to achieve the college-bound threshold of 3.0 in high school. The study also shows that attendance is much more easily influenced than test scores and higher attendance can result in a higher likelihood of a student graduating.

“[Grades] capture a broader range of student behavior. So, in that sense, they tell us more about who is likely to do well either in high school or college than test scores necessarily do,” Gwynne said.

An ongoing debate about using high-stakes standardized testing persists in Chicago.

Cassie Creswell, a spokesperson for More Than A Score, an organization that advocates against high-stakes testing, said, “[The study] supports something that we have certainly been telling people: that these test scores aren’t a great measure of much and they aren’t particularly predictive.”

A representative from CPS wrote in an email that they have successfully implemented some policies relating to attendance improvement.

“Standardized tests both help inform classroom instruction and gauge student achievement, while also providing students, teachers, and schools with a universal measure of performance,” Bill McCaffrey, the chief of media relations for CPS, wrote in an email.