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Research Suggests Looking Beyond Test Scores to Measure School Quality

Children in classroom

A new study coauthored by AU School of Public Affairs Distinguished Professor Ken Meier shows parents do a good job at evaluating the overall quality of a school, regardless of how well their child does in the classroom. The results point to the need to look at more than test scores to assess how well a school is serving its students.

The article, “Citizen Satisfaction and the Kaleidoscope of Government Performance: How Multiple Stakeholders See Government Performance,” co-authored by Meier and Miyeon Song, a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, was recently published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Because individual-level data was available, the researchers analyzed school quality surveys from 2010 to 2015 of parents, students, and teachers in South Korea. The study compared a parent’s evaluation of their child, the overall school, and the actual quality of the school as reflected in test scores.

“Parents respond much more to how well the school is doing than their own child,” says Meier. “They have a collective evaluation. I find that very positive for what this means for the education system. Parents are really committed to the overall quality of the system apart from their liking it to help their child.”

At first, Meier suspected the results might be linked to the collectivist nature of Korean culture, but the results are consistent with subsequent research in 16 other countries presented in another article he wrote being reviewed for publication. The findings from this paper challenge what the literature generally says about how parents weigh their assessment of a school compared with their child’s own performance.

“It’s really an assessment of overall expectations,” says Meier, regarding parents’ judgment of what constitutes a good education. “As the actual quality of the school goes up, how much they positively value their own child’s performance also goes up. There is a correlation. Parents like their children to succeed in a really good school.”

The study reflects the notion that when a parent gets feedback that other students are doing well or going on to college, it reinforces that their child is truly excelling. Meier says in some rural school districts where schools have essentially quit trying to do well, the lack of hope filters down to lower expectations for parents.

The findings show that parents can do a good job of evaluating a school and see factors besides test scores. “The real takeaway is that we need to start measuring those other aspects of education,” says Meier. “We need to understand what student well-being means to produce an effective democratic citizen. Parents demand more than test scores.”