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Until we all learn to process information in exactly the same way, it’s unlikely there will ever be uniformity in how we measure intelligence.

Nonetheless, there must be some standard by which we can judge the success of our schools, their curriculum and ultimately our students. So far, standardized tests in one form or another are the widely accepted norm for calculating academic success, though the debate rages on as to what these tests should actually be testing for.

And as we all learned at a young age, there are ethical and unethical ways to boost test scores.

From the standpoint of those in front of the classroom, “teaching to the test” is an insurance policy of sorts that guarantees your students will be familiar with the material covered in the exam. Literally, this means the teacher will limit their curriculum to those subjects on the exam. Under this model it’s not unreasonable to incorporate actual test questions into the lesson plan. The argument against this of course, hinges on the idea that bubble sheets can’t possibly convey all of society’s educational values.

In District 91, our elementary schools, a leading educator swore off this practice of teaching to the test, and disparaged legislative priorities set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In District 209, our local high school, the superintendent said he can’t be bothered debating the merits of any particular test, and instead, challenged educators to meet whatever standards are put in place.

Though these two school districts both serve the families of Forest Park, they have taken opposing positions in this debate. Instinct suggests that one of them must be wrong, but their respective circumstances add merit to both arguments.

In District 91, as in many other school districts in the country, special education students are being held to an arguably impossible standard. By definition a severely handicapped child will fall behind their peers in ways that will never put them on a truly equal footing. To help these students reach their own fullest potential is worthwhile and noble. To punish the district when they don’t perform at a level that challenges otherwise typical children is not.

However, educators in our K-8 schools need only look in the mirror for an example of the motivating influence accountability can have. After years of seeing black students struggle with math at the middle school, changes mandated by NCLB may have led to a turnaround in their performance.

Meanwhile, District 209 has lacked accountability up and down the ranks, both in and out of the classroom. Until the staff and the students can prove their own merit they forfeit the right to argue the standards.