Do Test Scores Matter?

BY  |  Wednesday, Apr 06, 2011 12:00pm  |  COMMENTS (20)

I am knee-deep in the Montclair kindergarten touring and choice process. I picked my top choices after visiting schools, some twice. My husband Johan took that into consideration along with making a spreadsheet comparing test scores. Some readers questioned this method. Here, Johan defends his spreadsheet:

When we first moved to Montclair we went on a tour at the Montclair Co-op and fell in love with the concept. They don’t believe in test scores or homework, and believe a child should learn through playing with other children. We had a wonderful year there, followed by two great years at MMO, which is located closer to our house.

With my twin daughters entering kindergarten next year, my two barometers for preferences on which schools to pick come down to my wife’s input from the tours and test scores. I work on a European hours schedule, which meant morning nor evening tours were possible for me.

This brings me to the question: Do test scores matter?

Fundamentally, I would love to be one of the parents who say no. While I do believe the best way for children at this age to learn is through interaction with their peers, I feel it would be naive of me to not address the fact that from high school and on, much of their education and work opportunities will be affected on how they test. To get into college you need to score well for college (SAT and ACT), business school (GMAT), law school (LSAT), med school (MCAT) and Snookie (GED–just kidding). Having an early start to give them that extra confidence, and getting them just a little bit ahead makes sense to me. But, then again, by day, I’m a data cruncher.

NJ Spotlight offers comprehensive test scores for our schools, but doesn’t give a head-to-head comparison. To get this comparison, I spent some time inputting the data into a simple Excel spreadsheet to see how the schools stacked up. They break it into three categories: language arts, math, and science by different grades, and score them in percentages that test “Advanced proficient,” “Proficient,” and “Partially proficient.” One school stuck out as having a very high percentage of “Advanced proficient” and “Proficient” and two schools stuck out as having a relatively high percentage of students that scored only “Partially proficient.” Two schools are above the town average.

I’m sure several readers will think I’m absurd. And, as stated in a few responses to my wife’s earlier story, someone even said they would not want their kids to go to school with my offspring because of the type of parent I am. Honestly, that’s a shame, because I have three wonderful, silly and well-behaved children that will build great friendships with their future classmates.

Montclair offers a great opportunity for our children through the Magnet program, and ultimately all the schools are good. But if I can combine a school that my wife got a good impression of with a school that offers above average test scores, that would be the ideal situation for me. The truth is, in our top three schools, one scores high, one average and one below average. And while I’d prefer the first choice, we’d be perfectly happy at any of the three we like.

Good luck to all the parents going through the same process and to the pre-schoolers getting ready to enter kindergarten this fall. After all, in the end, they’ll all wind up in the same place: Montclair High School, Class of 2024.


  1. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    Oh, Johan, you are such a tease. Come on, man, give us the comparisons. You know we want it bad…

  2. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    I knew something was up, Kristen, when I read that heartfelt note of thanks last night. (That would be the heart of a crocodile.) Very clever and deliciously wicked.

  3. POSTED BY scottie  |  April 06, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    I’m not sure to what extent, but scores DO matter. We used that same data to say that in x years we will be moving out of our current location and on to Millburn or Livingston HS, assuming it stays the same.

  4. POSTED BY janetwo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    This post makes me sad. We’re talking about little kids who won’t even go through the testing process for 3 years. Kids change a lot in that time, as do schools. My kids are now Middle School but I remember the insanity about getting into the “hot” school with great test scores. That year it was Watchung and people were nuts about getting their kids in. Many did and then they discovered that the class sizes were really high…my kid was happily at Nishuane with 19 kids in the class. Guess where many of those kids were transferred for 3rd grade… Hillside.
    Also, if you are a data guy, you need to dig deeper into why test scores are different between the schools. Really has more to do with socio-economic issues and special needs than teaching.

  5. POSTED BY stacymaeve  |  April 06, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    This whole commentary is unbelievable to me, and really speaks to the district’s problems in creating equilibrium among all the elementary schools. If people are told they get to choose their school by ranking their preferences, but then don’t get their first choice, then what is the point of the tours? In reality we all know that school choice is just a PR thing for the district. In my daughter’s school, the principal knows every child’s first name, their siblings’ names (even if they don’t go to the school), parents’ names and even grandparents! She eats lunch with the kids, greets them every morning on the car line (no assistant principal to lend a hand here), she is an active presence in their classrooms, and she is a smart, energetic, and positive presence; she emphasizes character ed. and promotes positive behavior through the Bradford CARES program. The partnership she has forged with MSU is unique and provides wonderful learning opportunities for the kids. I’m sure all the schools have equally wonderful principals, but would I trade my daughter’s education for one at another school with higher scores? NOT IN A MILLION YEARS. We may have a higher number of special ed. students and socioeconomically disadvantaged kids at our school, which obviously affects NJ ASK scores, but my daughter has had such positive experiences in her inclusion classroom that numbers simply can’t measure. She has learned so much from both teachers in her classroom and from kids with special needs, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

  6. POSTED BY janetwo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    I totally agree with staceymaeve: it’s about the whole environment of the school. We chose Nishuane because our kids love art, dance and being in plays. They thrived! Once they started testing in 3rd grade at Hillside, I found the results nothing more than a reinforcement of what I already knew from report cards, conferences and, most importantly, their level of engagement and happiness at school. To be focused so intensely on test scores is going to make you nuts and you very well may overlook the school that’s really the best match for your child. Your child. Not you.

  7. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  April 06, 2011 @ 3:17 pm


    Don’t lie!!! You ALL want the school that will allow you to put the “prestigious” sticker on your car. Or the one where you can tell folks at parties, “Little Sally? Yes. She got into ALL of her Reach schools… She’s so happy!” (Read: My kid Rocks!!! Your sucks!! I’m better than you!!)

    Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

    Unless of course, you subscribe to the prof rule: that the journey is the fun. Moreover, there are tons of great schools out there for your kid. The trick is to find the right one.

  8. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

    Except prof, of course.

  9. POSTED BY ldorosz  |  April 06, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

    For a side by side comparison, without running your own spreadsheets, you can go to They allow you to look at the test scores and compare all of the schools and also rank the schools with their own scores. I did not spend much time on the site, so I don’t know all their criteria, but it seems pretty easy to use.

  10. POSTED BY saras  |  April 06, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    Parents w/ older kids in the system love criticizing newcomers for their anxiety about what school they’ll get into. What these older parents fail to realize is how much this is perpetuated by the schools themselves. Each school tries really hard to make you believe that they are vastly different from the other schools. It seems somewhat natural to look at the test scores too when you’re in this environment.

    With that said, more depends on the parents than the school– which is why schools with high numbers of economically disadvantaged kids tend to have lower scores.

  11. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  April 06, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    Ohhhhh……. Roo… After your big interview, you’re oh, so… Ah, what, rabid? Is that the stank on your breath? Or was that your wit? Or Whit?

    Beats me, pal. To be clear: you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. Is that better? Good. I’ve absolved you from ever having to think I’m speaking the truth. Okay?

  12. POSTED BY janetwo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

    Saras, no, there is no criticism there as a parent of “older kids” just an observation. And you might want to review your last sentence, it’s a bit loaded. And you will find a lot of “diversity” in ALL the schools. That’s Montclair. If you don’t want your kids to be around “economically disadvantaged kids with low test scores” you have moved to the wrong town.

  13. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 06, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    After your big interview, you’re oh, so… Ah, what, rabid?

    Oh, you’re just jelly.

    you should take everything I say with a grain of salt

    A grain? How about a barrel.

  14. POSTED BY ALK  |  April 06, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

    Test scores hmmm… I wonder what will happen when the “school within a school” begins at Bullock next year. Well we plan on bringing back our out of district behaviorally challenged kiddo’s to one school! We may even accept money from other districts for the privilege of educating their behaviorally challenged students. I have a feeling the test scores there might tank! I am sure that people are clammering to get their children into this green school, who will now have all the students who could not function in the mainstream classroom. Great idea.

    Even better, wait until the voucher families realize that the classes at Nishuane are not full! Should do wonders for the Hillside test scores.

    Test scores are such a fun topic.

  15. POSTED BY carpets  |  April 07, 2011 @ 7:25 am

    Forget test scores. The real analysis you want to see is the list of college acceptances correlated to elementary school attended. And I’m not sharing!

  16. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 07, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    During a middle school tour I once listened to a principal blather on and on about how kids in his school were better prepared for high school than the students in the other middle schools. Afterwards I raised my hand and politely asked if he had data–test scores, GPAs and the like–to back that up. It seemed reasonable to ask for supporting data for such a bold assertion. From the reaction of the principal and the other parents in attendance, you would have thought I was advocating genocide.

  17. POSTED BY saras  |  April 07, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    @janetwo- I’m sure you misread my comment. I’ve never indicated that I don’t want my kids going to schools that are economically diverse. My point is that the makeup of each school is not the same, so comparing test scores can be a little unfair. I think the town could do a better job equalizing the schools.

    And I stand by that a lot of this comes down to the parents. If a parent is involved, their kids will probably succeed at any of the schools, and if a parent isn’t involved, their kids probably won’t do well at any of the schools.

  18. POSTED BY janetwo  |  April 07, 2011 @ 9:53 am

    saras, I agree! For what it’s worth, I’ve been in meetings where the issue of “equalizing” the schools has come up. I guess it’s not a subject that is brought up during the New Parent Tours :).

  19. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  April 07, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    saras’ last statement speaks the easy truth to all of this– parents matter!


    As for you, Roo–

    You sure showed that Principal!!!! What’s next, gonna ask the old Snapple lady whether it’s really made from the “best stuff on earth”?

    And what about College? Nothing funnier than a all-knowing parent speaking (and speaking…) up for their silent kid at an Open House. I sure hope this bluster is confined to the Montclair Public schools and you spare your kids the embarrassment of being the over-bearing College parent.

    (Oh, and a barrel? You DO understand the expression and why a grain is used, huh? But you’re right. YOU are probably better off using a barrel…)

  20. POSTED BY walleroo  |  April 07, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

    Such hostility today from the normally easy-going prof. As the great philosopher hrobrah might say: it doesn’t fit well with your personal brand.

    I’m not sure where you get overbearing from, prof. Because I asked the principal if he had data to support his claim? If that’s overbearing, so be it. Generally, though, I believe in letting teachers get on with their jobs, without too much interference from the peanut gallery.

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