Society and Culture, Education

Do parents pick schools based on test scores?

Image Credit: shutterstock

Image Credit: shutterstock

If you’ve tracked education for much of the past decade, you’d think that parents are obsessed with test scores and graduation rates. Between the No Child Left Behind Act, ceaseless invocations of the “achievement gaps,” and the self-assured pronouncements of education reformers, you’d think it’s uniformly held test scores are the crucial metric of school quality.

The strange thing, of course, is how often one encounters parents who think the importance of tests is overblown. They care about how well their kids can read and do math, of course, but they’re frustrated by the emphasis on test results and fear that schools aren’t paying enough attention to character, citizenship, the arts, or much else.  The result is a remarkable disconnect between what policymakers, advocates, and academics focus on, and what parents actually think is important.

On this score, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice just released an enlightening new study of parents who participate in the Georgia scholarship program to transfer their child to a private school. The report, which will be released tomorrow morning, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” reports on the findings from a survey of 754 parents and sheds light into what parents value.

When asked about the top five reasons why they chose a private school, parents paid remarkably little heed to the things that so concern those of us in the policy world. The top five concerns were discipline (51%), the learning environment (51%), small class sizes (49%), safety (47%), and individualized attention (39%). Religious education didn’t show up until eighth place. And test scores? They showed up in 14th place, and were named by just 10% of respondents.

When asked what information would be helpful in choosing a good private school, the top five responses were” class size (84%), accreditation (70%), curriculum (70%), the percentage of students going to college (61%), and whether the family is comfortable with the school’s religious instruction (56%). Test scores first showed up in sixth place.

Even after more than a decade of frenzied attention to student achievement on reading and math tests, many parents are much more focused on other measures of school quality. That may suggest just how fragile is the popular support underpinning test-fueled policies regarding school accountability and teacher evaluation. Would-be reformers would do well to keep this in mind.

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4 thoughts on “Do parents pick schools based on test scores?

  1. As a parent I have never heard of a parent’s ” fear that schools aren’t paying enough attention to character, citizenship, the arts, or much else.”

    And I really don’t care about that either, I care whether my kid can read write and do math, and am actually quite upset that they are spending too much time on those PC subjects you mention, and other touchy feely unmeasurable soft skills because it means I have to teach my kids math and reading at home.

    What a bunch of tripe.

  2. Oh and yes, I do pick schools based on test score. But it is difficult to do unless you move, since it is hard to change your assigned school in many places. Have problems with your school spending too much time on citizenship and your stuck – while the principal tells you dead pan “No other parent has ever complained about this” knowing it is a lie.

    That is where homeschooling comes in, and if you are lucky and go through hoops you might find a charter school in your area.

  3. just a guess.. but I bet parents who want their kids to go to college – do pay attention to SAT scores and yes, that is a test you can teach to and in fact, its one of the things that good private schools teach to.

  4. So what exactly is “the learning environment”? And what does “discipline” mean to certain individuals? If they are looking for places with a high percentage of students going on to college, you know they are paying attention to standardized test scores and SATs. While these parents may not state they overtly value test scores, there are many responses here that lead to a school filled with children of privilege, who have higher test scores for a variety of reasons. It makes me sad to think how many parents think these are the best choices for their kids in every circumstance.

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