The blog of the Urban Institute
April 30, 2019

Going Beyond Test Scores to Measure School Quality

Spurred by the Every Student Succeeds Act, districts and states across the country have developed school report cards that aim to designate school quality. Although these report cards include school demographics, services, and programs, they have been met with controversy because they largely focus on test scores. Parents and other interested stakeholders need a more complete understanding of school quality that includes student learning outside of test score achievement.

Test scores offer only one lens into schools’ activities. The “ideal” school has a positive impact on achievement and learning for all students, as well as on the development of deeper learning and life skills that will help students find long-term success. Conversations around school report cards have highlighted larger inequities among schools serving traditionally underserved students.

Enter the REMIQS (Robust and Equitable Measures to Identify Quality Schools) study, which aims to identify broader measures of student achievement and learning in traditional public high schools where many of the students have been historically underserved. These schools serve a substantial portion of students who are low income, nonwhite, need support learning English, or enter high school underprepared.

As a partner in the first phase of the REMIQS project, the Urban Institute seeks to inject at least two elements that are lacking in the larger conversation around school quality:

  • Measures of student achievement and learning that extend beyond test scores: The project looks at measures of student engagement, content knowledge, college and career readiness, physical health and well-being, postsecondary attendance and success, deeper learning skills, job quality and earning, and civic engagement of high school students and alumni. Test scores are just one piece of the puzzle.
  • Measures that can be used across multiple state contexts: The investigation of broader definitions of school quality will help inform states and other policymakers about new ways to conceptualize and track schools that are benefiting their students. We aim for these measures to be applicable regardless of state context.

Using the Urban Institute’s Education Data Portal and the team’s collection of longitudinal educational data from several states, REMIQS will identify schools that are producing positive outcomes for traditionally underserved students and will inform states as they develop accountability systems.

We aim to add to the conversation around school quality and accountability measures and to complement states’ existing systems. We are also taking a creative approach to choosing which data are considered in the school quality discussion. For example, we plan to look at students’ long-term outcomes, such as college completion and workforce participation.

In an era where parents have several choices regarding their children’s education, information is plentiful but not easy to decipher. REMIQS will offer both data and recommendations for measuring school quality, which could help states ensure all students receive a quality education.


An earlier version of this blog post stated that REMIQS is “a joint effort between the Urban Institute, KnowledgeWorks's Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, and multiple states.” The collaborative has not yet fully transitioned to KnowledgeWorks, so we removed that description. We also amended the sentence to clarify that Urban is a partner in the first phase of the project (corrected 5/13/19).

Photo by Joy Rector/Shutterstock.

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