Reconsidering Test Scores: New Research Supports a Holistic Approach to High School Assessment
The traditional grading system, originally devised by Mount Holyoke College in 1897, had been adopted by schools throughout the United States by the early 20th century. Image credit:

Traditional test scores have been considered the ultimate measure of success in high schools for at least a century. However, new research suggests the time may have come to rethink this approach. A recent study published on Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Blog challenges the idea that test scores should be the primary determiner of a student’s academic achievement. The study calls for a more comprehensive and holistic approach to evaluating students and their success in high school.

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Key takeaways:

  • test scores may not accurately reflect a student’s true abilities
  • personal growth is crucial for long-term success
  • extracurricular activities play a vital role in student success
  • social and emotional development are essential factors
  • a holistic approach to evaluation is needed

The Study

The research conducted by a team of experts, involved a thorough examination of different factors contributing to a student’s overall success in high school. Those included academic performance, personal growth, extracurricular activities, and social and emotional development. The research found that relying solely on test scores as a benchmark of success often resulted in an incomplete and skewed understanding of a student’s true capabilities and potential.

Key Findings

Test scores do not always reflect a student’s actual knowledge and skills. Standardized tests are designed to measure specific knowledge and skills in a controlled environment. However, they may not accurately capture a student’s abilities, particularly regarding real-world problem-solving and critical thinking. Moreover, test anxiety can lead to lower scores, despite the student’s competence. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, about 16-20% of students suffer from high test anxiety, which can significantly impact their test scores and not accurately represent their true knowledge and skills.

The importance of personal growth. The study emphasized the significance of personal development in a student’s high school journey. Building resilience, cultivating empathy, and fostering a growth mindset are essential for lifelong success. These aspects of personal growth are not typically assessed in standardized tests.A study by Stanford University found that students who possess a growth mindset, or the belief that their abilities can be developed, show higher academic achievement and resilience in the face of challenges.

Extracurricular activities and their impact on success. Extracurricular activities provide students with opportunities to develop leadership, teamwork, and time-management skills. These experiences enrich a student’s high school life and contribute to their overall personal and academic development. Research published in the American Educational Research Journal shows that students who are actively engaged in extracurricular activities are more prone to reaching GPA of 3.0 or higher, compared to students who do not participate. As such, extracurricular activities should be factored into assessments of student success.

Social and emotional development as crucial factors. Emotional intelligence and social skills are critical to a student’s long-term success. Focusing on test scores alone does not consider the importance of these factors, which contribute significantly to a student’s overall well-being and ability to thrive in various life situations.

Towards a Holistic Approach

The new research underscores the importance of adopting a more comprehensive and holistic approach to evaluating student success in high school. This approach should take into account not only test scores but also personal growth, extracurricular involvement, and social and emotional development. By recognizing the multifaceted nature of success, educators can better support students in their journey toward becoming well-rounded individuals equipped to face the challenges of the modern world.


The study’s findings prompt a much-needed conversation about the overemphasis on test scores in high schools. Educators can create more equitable and inclusive learning environments that nurture every aspect of a student’s development by considering a more comprehensive range of factors that contribute to a student’s success. It is time for a paradigm shift that places equal importance on personal growth, extracurricular involvement, and social and emotional development alongside academic achievement.

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