A downside of setting student academic results targets in schools


When I reflect on the positives of working in my current school and share my thoughts with colleagues from other schools, they are often amazed when I tell them that we do not set specific targets for student results.

Our school does not have a specific average score that it needs to achieve from IB Diploma students or other standardized tests for that matter. I know that many schools have such targets and I have often contemplated the impact of doing so.

Performance targets can give us something to aim for and a school’s reputation may grow from it being able to say that their students received this result and that result, which makes them better than other ‘like’ schools. There is, however, a significant downside to being a results driven school based on student academic success.

The biggest downside, in my opinion, is the associated pressure placed upon teachers to achieve these results and that the support needed for teachers is not commensurate with the goal that they are being asked to achieve. In some cases, teachers are faced with an impossible task and falling short of the set goals can have a devastating impact on teacher morale and could be viewed as detrimental to keeping good teachers in the profession.

Pressure has knock-on effects. The worst impact of a student results given goals is when teachers and school administrators, in too many instances, tell students “you can’t.” In order to achieve particular school-wide statistics, students are told the the subjects and the study track that they will take. This is not necessarily in the best interest of the student but more in the interest of the teacher and the school at large. In extreme instances, if a student is not going to get the highest grades in a course, then they may be told that they cannot do it. In fact, the student may actually have the ability to take on the course and do quite well, but for the sake of preserving the class average, they are either deterred by the teacher or prevented by the school administration from studying that particular course.

This is especially damaging in some schools, where we should be instead telling students, “you can.” Support of student aspirations is essential in schools. We need to give students the confidence to take on challenges and pursue their dreams. Obviously, this needs to be tempered with a level of pragmatic reality with respect to the student’s abilities, but to tell a student that they cannot do something to protect an average score is just plain wrong.

Schools, especially fee-paying ones, in competitive market places present student results statistics to parents as a marketing strategy to get enrollments. Unfortunately, until parents have their children in the school do they then see the reality. The good average scores seem great at first until it is their child that is told that they cannot do something that they are actually capable of doing, then it begins to hurt.

Schools have an obligation to help students reach for the sky and achieve the best they can. We should be challenging students to achieve while they maintaining a healthy balance and outlook on life. Where possible we have to find opportunities to say to our students, “you can,” rather than, “you can’t.”