By | Reem Saeed
When it comes to selecting which school their child will attend, often a parent’s decision relies on the use of data points. Graduation rates, test scores, and post-secondary data are frequently used to determine the line between a “good” and “bad” school. The intentions behind this are not entirely problematic, but without looking at the layers behind the numbers listed on a school’s profile, the entirety of a student’s experience at school becomes lost and dictated by statistics rather than qualitative elements.
As a child, my parents decided to enroll me at a gifted-and-talented K-8 school. The test scores at this school were phenomenal and the success rate of each student, determined by the quantitative data points provided by the school, prompted my parents to believe this was the best decision for me. I learned several important skills and had many important experiences at this school, but the negative aspects of that school were not reflected in the data. The microaggressions, racism, and oftentimes toxic academic culture were not something parents could see through statistics. Afterwards, I moved to one of the most diverse high schools in Colorado. The reverse was true when it came to data for this school compared to my elementary and middle school. No test score or percentage could accurately depict the sense of community and belonging I found at my school. My positive experiences seemed to matter less in comparison to the data others had seen from my school. Through my encounters with students from neighboring schools, I heard that the quantitative statistics at my school made it inferior to other schools. Similar to one student’s experience described in the main article for this issue, many families even went as far as to make the choice to apply to an out-of-district school so their child would not be in (what they perceived to be) a negative environment.
In the case of test scores, the school itself can only contribute so much to the actual outcomes. Standardized tests pander to neurotypical students and students who are frequently successful due to external factors such as private tutoring and access to resources. Graduation rates and post-secondary data are two complicated points that have many contributing factors. Students’ familial responsibilities, financial stress, and many others can dictate the outcome of their livelihoods. The largely classist and ableist idea that high rates of 4-year college admissions and high standardized test scores makes a school better reinforce the systems that society established to further marginalize individuals. I would frequently hear teachers wanting students to score well to maintain their test averages or see my peers feel the pressure to be an “exception” to the path seemingly predetermined for students of a school. However, this bolsters the idea that data makes each student a quantitative factor to benefit the school at large, rather than an individual with complex needs and plans.
This leads to the question of what can be done to replace the exclusive use of numerical data in determining school success. The answer is to shift the reliance on percentages and statistics to the experiences of students. Testimonies from the perspective of people who attend an institution everyday for multiple years can bear significantly more weight than sheer statistics that lack complexity. Especially in the case of schools with diverse or minority-majority populations, the broader factors that contribute to the data the school presents are not visible with numbers alone. If numbers must be used, student ratings of how supported they feel, belonging in the community, and their overall views of the school will give people a more nuanced view rather than the bias that quantitative-only data presents. The systemic barriers that influence student life will not be torn down by simply removing data, but acknowledging these influences will be one step to creating a more equitable and inclusive school environment.
Reem Saeed is a senior at Overland High School. She is passionate about political and social activism in her community. She will be attending Princeton University in the Fall to study public policy.