Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University

Way too much is made of standardized test scores. Parents worry about them the way hypochondriacs fret about their bowel movements. Politicians refer to them as if they were the pronouncements of Moses. School officials anticipate their public unveiling in the same way an accused murderer awaits the verdict.All of this is more than passing odd. Why? Because, at best, standardized tests measure relatively trivial things. They tell us nothing about whether schooling is having a positive impact on the way children will actually live their lives. Worse, they tell us nothing about whether a student is learning how to be a more compassionate, critical reasoning human being,.Many admit the weaknesses of high stakes tests, but still argue for their administration. They say: “We need some measure of school effectiveness.” Humbug! There already are widely available indices that offer a much better measure of educational progress. All we need do is stop ignoring them.Departing from my customary humility, I propose we call this compilation of indices: 
Clabaugh’s Index of Leading Educational Indicators. Here is a preliminary list:


Social Media Content

Here is an exceedingly powerful index of schooling’s effectiveness. Tabulate the number of adults entering ignorant, often singularly hateful, drivel on Twitter, for example, and we’re counting people that schooling somehow failed. The same applies to other social media. (Any school system graduating one or more of these utterly asinine contributors should immediately be indicted for fraud.) The greater the number of entries of this type, the gloomier we should be about our nation’s schools.  

The Top 40 Billboard Albums

Here we should keep tabs on the sales figures of various musical artists and genres. Like the popularity of paintings of Elvis on black velvet, it reveals a great deal about schooling’s success or failure. We could, for example, compare gangsta rap music sales with classical music sales. Our schools surely have failed miserably if most consumers prefer Young Thug to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Cardi B to Frederick Chopin. 

Cult Membership

Every Jonestown resident who swigged that lethal Cool Aid represented a schooling failure. So did the men in David Koresh’s cult who allowed the self-proclaimed prophet to sexually service their wives and daughters because, as Koresh patiently explained to them, he was the only man holy enough to do the job. And what about that Heaven’s Gate crowd, the males of which had themselves castrated to conform with “Bo” and “Peep’s” teachings, then eagerly “left their containers” to rendezvous with a space ship concealed behind the Hale-Bopp comet. These folks were a bit deficient in those critical thinking skills that school systems say they develop.

Supermarket tabloid sales

The sales figures of these grotesque gazettes provide a far more valid measure of educational progress than anything ETS could dream up. I’m talking about papers that headline things like “Woman commits suicide in dishwasher!”, or “Half boy, half dolphin washes up on beach!” Tabloid sales figures are an inverse measure of educational progress.

The Popularity of Televangelist Con-artists

The income figures of these carnival barker charlatans, which are available from the IRS Tax Exempt Branch, are a sure measure of schooling’s effectiveness. The more money these auctioneers for Jesus make, the less well our schools are doing. Conside the Reverend Benny Hinn’s television ministry. Hinn, the subject of a devastating CNN expose, is the sacerdotal chap who lapses into “trances” while conducting worship services. The Holy Spirit allegedly then uses Hinn’s vocal apparatus to directly speak to the congregation. Hinn, by the way, claims he has no idea what the Spirit says through him. He has to ask the congregation after he regains consciousness. The amount of money sent to guys like Hinn should be monitored carefully. It is another inverse measure of school effectiveness.

The Number of People Who Still Think President Trump is a Truth-sayer

The number of people who still think The Donald tells the truth, testifies how badly our schools are failing to teach observational skills, much less critical thinking. There are people out there, for instance, who still find it plausible and desirable to build an allegedly impenetrable wall that would stretch the equivalent distance of NYC to Phoenix, Arizona (including a 1,000 mile stretch following the deepest channel of the Rio Grande) and that Mexico will going to pay for it. Then there are the true believing Christians who apparently believe that God favors a thrice married man whose personal pursuit of worldly riches and utter distain for charity turns Jesus’s teachings completely upside down. Consider his notorious boasting and chest beating, and compare that with: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Any teacher or professor who passed one of these zealous Trump half-wits should spend the rest of his or her life as a penitential hermit.

The Quality of School Reform Efforts

Recent efforts at school reform constitute irrefutable, if unintentional, proof that our schools aren’t getting it done. Let’s keep tabs on these ludicrously overpromised proposals such as: No Child Left Behind and Every Student Succeeds. When they start to become better reasoned, and more honest, we’ll know our schools are improving. As they stand, such ridiculous promises prove that our representatives still depend on our ignorance and gullibility.



Yes friends, this is the way we should measure school effectiveness. Such an index would be much more powerful than anything Educational Testing Service or Psychological Corporation could possibly contrive, even if they were on steroids.

Perhaps some of you are thinking that schools are not exclusively, even mainly, responsible for the dismal state of affairs these alternative measures reveal. So what? Educators aren’t chiefly responsible for high stakes test scores either. Such scores are largely a product of non-school factors such as the home environment, poverty, the maldistribution of the nation’s wealth and how naturally smart people are to begin with. Remember, fully half the population is below average in intelligence. But politicians can hardly acknowledge these things and still blame everything on teachers, now can they?