The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) recently released a report noting a decline in the global rankings of U.S. students.

U.S. students ranked 25th in math, 20th in science and 11th in reading in 2009. By 2012, their rankings had fallen to 29th in math, 24th in science and 21st in reading.

Public charters, private schools, vouchers, smaller classes, longer school days, more funding, increased curriculum standards, more student testing and certification exams for educators have all been implemented.

Yet scores on international standardized tests continue to decline, signaling that there is no “one size fits all” solution for improving America’s education system, and noting our unwavering commitment to standardize tests as the primary measure of educational quality.

I have friends and family who are public school teachers as well as those involved in the school choice/reform movement.

This has led me to conclude that improving the education system requires a multi-faceted approach, combining the best practices of both public education advocates and school reformers.

This will require both “sides” to see themselves as complementary not contradictory or competing efforts.

It will also require ongoing analysis of the significant factors influencing education, of which I would emphasize four: standardized testing, educators, parents and students.

Standardized testing is necessary to evaluate educational progress nationwide and worldwide. Nevertheless, personal experience leads me to conclude that the emphasis placed on test scores can be problematic.

Throughout primary and secondary school, I received mostly As and Bs. When I took the SAT, I didn’t use any preparatory courses or books. Not surprisingly, I scored a 1020. I went on to have a 3.94 GPA in undergraduate and a 3.93 GPA in graduate school.

While I likely could have improved my SAT score using preparatory resources, I recall feeling that the test contained oddly phrased questions as well as questions that were matters of interpretation, requiring the test-taker to select a multiple choice answer based on their best guess as to the test author’s view.

I feel the grades I received from educators more accurately reflects the quality of my education and the work I put forth than my SAT score.

I wonder how many educators, parents and students might share similar experiences and sentiments?

Yet most primary and secondary schools are judged to be failing if students do not succeed on state-level standardized exams, which offers a limited and, in my experience, incomplete assessment of educational quality and a student’s abilities.

The other three factors – educators, parents and students – should be discussed together as student success results from the combined effort of all three.

Too often, responsibility for a student’s success or failure at the primary and secondary school level is placed largely on the educators. As a result, too little is expected of parents and the students themselves.

My experience has been that schools receiving failing marks often lack significant parental involvement and students exhibit poor behaviors and a weak work ethic.

Sometimes lack of parental involvement is a factor of poverty. If parents work outside the home at multiple jobs and have long or irregular hours, this makes it difficult to help children with homework, be involved in PTA or meet with teachers.

Local churches could help by partnering with local schools to offer tutoring and mentoring.

Language is another issue. If parents are not native English speakers, they will not be able to offer much help with homework and each meeting with their student’s teachers will require a translator to have a constructive conversation. Again, local churches could help by offering courses in English as a second language.

Ultimately, unengaged parenting is most detrimental to quality education. Consider how difficult it would be to teach if you were spending significant portions of each class disciplining misbehaving students, teaching basic social skills or trying to encourage students to do any work at all.

Moreover, what if students didn’t fear any consequences – for example, going to the principal’s office or receiving in-school suspension – but actually welcomed this because it meant they didn’t have to listen to the lesson or do any work?

The role of parents in teaching children how to behave, helping them understand the importance of education and assisting them with homework is an important and often overlooked factor in education.

To put it bluntly, should schools receive failing marks due to low standardized test scores if students do not come to school prepared to learn, put forth little effort and regularly misbehave despite the best efforts of teachers to keep them in line?

Without universalizing this experience to all “failing schools,” I believe it is an often-overlooked factor in many.

While access to quality education – whether in public, private or charter schools – should be available to everyone, no amount of effort put forth by educators can replace students giving their best effort and parents being involved in their child’s education.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for

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