YORK — For the past few years, I’ve viewed the different means of rating the schools of Maine and our nation. Using some rubric known only to the people who publish the lists, the school are given a rating as to how they compare to surrounding facilities.

In reality, schools are rated according to standardized test, SAT, Advanced Placement or ACT scores; drop-out rates; percentage of students going to college; the state of the facility; the curriculum, the color of the principal’s teeth or anything else one can place a number on.

The most important data point is usually ignored because it is more difficult to quantify. I am talking about how well our students do in their post-secondary lives. A tracking of students after they graduate would be the best means of rating a school – after all, isn’t the future of our students why the schools exist?

I had a unique opportunity in my classroom recently. I teach in New Hampshire, and I invited some of the students who are now going to college or have graduated from college and are now working on their theses. I did this to show my present chemistry students what and who they could become even though they are in a suburban, not-so-affluent school system.

One of the former students I invited had gone on to attend and graduate from Colby College. She is now working on her doctorate in neuroscience at Brown University. In my chemistry class, she was a hardworking student who had remarkable study skills and habits. I also invited a former student who is now at Dartmouth College and a third who is at Texas Tech.

When I told my current students who they’d be hearing from, many students from other disciplines of the school wanted to be a part of the discussion. This clearly demonstrated a need by my students to see what their futures could be if they put the time and effort into their studies.

An important point that one of my past students made was how important it was to network with professors when they go off to college or work. She told them they should seek out professors or colleagues in order to advance in their careers. Many of my students didn’t realize this fact about their post-high school years. In other words, grades and standardized tests become irrelevant.

I try to keep track of my past students in order to assist with any questions they may have on chemistry or to help them obtain any possible scholarships needed to continue their education. Many have also used me as a reference for a job or graduate work.

I am proud to say that many are living full and interesting lives. I am also saddened at how some are not living the dreams they had in high school. This brings back an old Cat Stevens song, “Father and Son,” which warns, “Take your time, think a lot. Why, think of everything you’ve got. For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.”

How fulfilling would it be for a school system to be rated on how well their students were prepared for their futures – whether this means studying neuroscience, running a business, starting a family and thus becoming teachers of their children, defending their country or anything else that makes them a full and potential citizen and person.

You see, using tests or any other scale to judge a school means nothing. Everything depends on how well the students – and thus the children – of my community do. I tell my students almost every day that they will forget their AP scores and class rank as soon as they enter their post-secondary world. But they won’t forget how well they were prepared through their high school years and hopefully won’t forget the many teachers whose life’s work it is to have them succeed.

This method of ranking will never happen. We will continue to rate our schools according to standardized tests, facilities and, in effect, how much a community can spend on their children at their schools. As John Lennon once wrote, “imagine” if this more meaningful way of assessing our schools were possible.

— Special to the Press Herald