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The Real Essay Question for Christian Schools

Lots of things are important in school. Discipline. Order. Good test scores. But what’s most important in a Christian school? We think it is the goal of godliness. And that is why Christian teachers work hard at hard jobs—because training the next generation for Christ is worth the sacrifice.

Without that guiding mission, lesser things can become too important. With disastrous results. Students with potential who are required to do well only on tests or in performance lose interest if they do not see the value of what they learn. Students who are eager to please find they can do so by simply engaging their recall skills and strive for nothing more. They may do well on tests in school—but what about tests in life?

In a recent School Library Journal, Pamela Bacon says that "while many . . . teachers understood the value of the library, they were so intent on preparing their students for the state-mandated tests that they couldn’t find time for anything else" ("Where the Kids Are," SLJ, July 2004, p. 28).

"So intent on preparing their students for the state-mandated tests that they couldn’t find time for anything else[!]" Not even for "critical research skills, not to mention basics, such as locating a book in the library" (p. 28).

But there are greater dangers. On May 21, 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that under the pressure of performance-based evaluations, some 75 California public school teachers helped their students cheat in order to get higher grades on required standardized tests. Are higher test scores worth that?

Of course not. What those teachers taught by their actions will impact the students far more and far longer than any answers to the test questions will. But the teachers’ actions have brought the emphasis on test scores under scrutiny. Perhaps there are better ways to be sure students are getting a good education.

Here and there, voices decrying the over-emphasis on test scores are starting to rise above the drill of teaching to the tests. Some educators in the public schools are saying success in education must be judged on more than tests. They want to change not only the goal but also the methods.

"Most approaches ignore everything we know about teaching and learning—above all for a democratic society—because it’s inconvenient for purposes of measurement," says author and educator Deborah Meier of the public school system in New York’s East Harlem ("Turning to More Than Scores to Rate Schools" by Jay Mathews in The Washington Post, September 28, 2004). Meier formed a thriving public school in East Harlem that makes test scores a part of assessing a school’s success—not the sum total.

Another school in Rhode Island has been garnering both praise and criticism for its more encompassing definition of a successful school. Peter McWalters, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, began a yearly state survey of teachers, students, and parents known as SALT (School Accountability for Learning and Teaching).

"The survey yields ratings on factors such as parental involvement, school climate and quality of instruction, which are reported along with math and reading scores" (Mathews, Post). BJU Press has always maintained that a truly good education is well rounded, that scores are important, but that they cannot tell the whole story.

Christian schools are in the business of leading by example, of nurturing young people in righteousness, of developing thinkers who lead, not performers who follow. Of helping young people not only know the facts and processes but also assess and use them to make informed, responsible decisions and to act accordingly.

And teaching students to think and to apply what they learn is not a new concept at BJU Press either. What others are just becoming aware of and spending time and money to implement, BJU Press has considered a foundational principle since its beginning three decades ago.

We at BJU Press believe that when a student can apply what he learns, he has the advantage over a student who can only repeat what he learns. And we know that for a thinking student, test scores will be only one indication of how much he has learned. The real tests for him will come in life. And we, like you, want him to be ready.

 by Dawn Watkins and Dan Olinger. Updated October 21, 2015.

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