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New York Times
Eduardo Porter, ECONOMIC SCENE, March 24, 2015
Grading Teachers by the Test

The Business Section of The New York Times, specifically in space given to stories about the economy, is reporting on what various states are doing and what several studies conclude about the value of using student test data to evaluate teacher performance. As parents increasingly “opt-out” their children from taking these tests and as concerns increase from parents and educators about how test makers are monitoring students’ social media sites, the advantages and problems of tying these scores to teacher evaluation is a hotly debated topic in the larger political and economic arena. Schooling is a multi-billion dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of the action. Applying a corporate bottom line to teaching and learning is a bad idea. As Iditarod winner Susan Butcher proclaimed, teaching her dogs to be winners, to persevere, to work as a team, to learn and be winners started at birth and depended on how they were treated and trained and cared for each and every day over years. One has to take a very long view to produce a champion she proclaimed. Ask any pro athlete and she’ll tell you the same thing.

“Some things they do will be good, in line with the objectives. Others will amount to cheating or gaming the system.” – Jonah Rockoff, Columbia University

“A performance metric is only useful as a performance metric as long as it isn’t used as a performance metric.” – Luis Garicarno, London School of Economics

Issues abound: how kids and teachers are “sorted;” who takes the test, gets extra resources and who doesn’t and who decides; drill and kill or teaching to the test; the value-added of the tests; how valid and how reliable are these tests anyway; factors outside of the teacher such as children living in poverty, resources of the school district and more. Many teachers do not want to teach either Special Education students or top students for the same reason: hard to get scores up at both ends of the student spectrum.

Ultimately this testing madness is not serving the important purposes which would make tests worthwhile: giving teachers information about students that will further the teacher’s ability to pinpoint the areas where a student needs extra support; where a curriculum needs improving; or where the teacher needs to improve in either content knowledge, pedagogy or both.

Professor Rockoff goes on to say, “. . . do not put too much weight on any single measure.”

I don’t think we need in depth university research and studies to come to the conclusion that any one moment in time, any one test, any one event can tell us all we need to know about the many factors that make up excellent pedagogy that results in student learning. Let reason prevail and redirect the high high costs of test making, test administration, and scoring analysis, into improving teacher training, teacher quality and increasing resources directly to the primacy of what goes on in a classroom each and every day.

A parent was outraged by his school telling parents that test results would not be back for one year. “What a waste is that?” Indeed.