First off: Congratulations to the Erie County schools, particularly the eight individual buildings that improved into the "excellent" category, in the latest round of results from state standardized testing of grade-schoolers.
Achievement can only be applauded.
However, our congratulation is mixed with caution.
We'll say what we said when the results from the state tests weren't so good: The tests measure one thing: how students do on one test.
And it's a test that does not take into account the many, many challenges laid at the feet of public schools these days.
Recently on this page, retired teacher Deborah Laird wondered, in the context of paying teachers based on merit, how to determine a teacher's merit based on student performance when student's lives are affected by numerous factors beyond the teacher's control.
Extend that argument to schools as a whole.
Take the argument in the other direction: It's hard to see how the test measures the less-quantifiablebenefits of school: The social development, the sense of camaraderie, the subtle shaping of one's character as one grows up amid one's peers.
We may be going out on a limb here, but the words of Robert F. Kennedy, speaking in 1968 at theUniversity of Kansas, are irresistible:
"...Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. ... It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."
The test results, like the gross national product, are numbers -- useful information. But by themselves, they do not tell us all we need to know to determine the job our schools are doing.