Monday, August 16, 2010

Seething over release of teacher names and test data...

This article in the LA Times today is unbelievable.

And ridiculous.

Apparently, standardized testing has reached nirvana, and the unimpeachable data paints a crystal clear picture of student learning and teacher expertise.

This is embarrassing. And furthermore, it is embarrassing that the release of the data related to individual teachers would be supported by Arne Duncan, who asks in the article, "What is there to hide?"

I don't think the perspective is that of hiding anything, but of being held responsible for results that have too many variables associated with them. That alone isn't good science, but we still pour our hearts and souls into standardized testing and believe that they should be the sole measure of student learning. That's a big load of hooey.

I mentioned this in a previous posting on Assessment in my eduACTion post, but when I go to the doctor, I don't want him to do one standardized test and base his diagnosis and treatment regimen solely on that one test. Likewise, it would be ridiculous to evaluate the doctor based on how he treats patients around this one measure. There are multiple ways to assess my health: the oral response to how I'm feeling and why I'm at the doctor; the formative, in the moment tests such as temperature, breathing, etc.; and the standardized--all of which lead to the proper result.

How do we know these tests accurately measure student learning against state standards? How do we know that the students didn't have a lucky guessing day on the day of the test? How do we know that something in the student's environment didn't impact that test score? How do we know the value of objective tests over constructed responses, multimedia products, or other alternative forms of assessment that break the tradition of instructional practices.

Additionally, it was mentioned in the article that understanding the results of these tests would help to target those teachers that needed professional development. I think that says it all right there. The assessments aren't for the teachers. They are to understand what students know and are able to do. Also--assessment doesn't mean test. Assessment is about evaluation and IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE PUNITIVE--for anyone involved. But we've got to have that grade--and we've got to spin those numbers, so that the American public, who values only the version of education that they experienced, will feel comfortable about the education they believe their child is getting. But how do they really know what this "assessment" is and what the results really are? Everybody just wants a number...a high number...but a number is not a kid. So it feels kind of wrong to value these numbers over the kids, and then to attach teacher evaluation to those numbers being high or low, as they are as subjective as current educational practices.

If the department of Education continues to value the archaic and ridiculous, then we as a nation should not be surprised when our children graduate from college and are only prepared for a world that is perpetually stuck in 1975. However, they'll be damn good test takers!

Read the article yourself and feel free to respond. I think it's quite inflammatory and disrespectful, and highly illogical.


  1. You're spot on here, Mike. And if education pushes down this path it will be yet another idea that sounds great politically but isn't thought out through to the end result.

    Anyone with half a brain that follows this idea to what implementation would look like would see how it plays out: the "best" teachers having an overwhelming number of students trying to get into their class, the "worst" teachers ending up with the most disappointed students and parents. Playing this out might actually give more data to supposedly support the wisdom of the decision, but it would once again be data that is completely skewed. In short, these classrooms would become self-fulfilling prophecies. The "best" teachers would earn phantom respect from teachers, students, and peers- which in turn helps them more easily teach. The "worst" teachers would get an automatic level of disrespect and analysis from all stakeholders, leading them to a situation that is much more difficult to teach their students as well as they might have otherwise.

    And that's just the start of the actual logistics of what would happen. The teachers with the worst scores would become outcasts in their own building, their faith in themselves and their style would go down, and things would spiral downward instead of upward.

    And what kind of support would the "worst" teachers receive from parents? Those of us in schools can see the writing on the wall there....

    It's just scary because once again we've got folks that are lawyers, businessmen, and politicians above all else trying to fix schools. The ideas are so rock solid politically - leave no child behind, 100% proficiency, teacher accountability, getting rid of bad teachers, etc. - that they accomplish the rarest of rare- bipartisan support. But since they don't know what the hell would happen in schools as a result of their easy-to-get-past-the-public ideas, everything gets hosed at the school level.

    I guess this article struck a nerve with me too. I didn't expect to leave such a long comment....but it's just so broken.

  2. This is absolutely absurd. I completely agree with your statement that this isn't about hiding anything, it's about being held accountable for something with so many variables. It just doesn't make sense to hinge everything in our education system, including teacher accountability, on standardized testing. It is truly unfortunate that we have entered an age in which we are more interested in numbers and data (whether legitimate or not) than in whether a person is truly educated and well-rounded in the deepest sense of those words. Sure our kids are great test takers, but do most of them really know how to synthesize and apply what they've learned in life outside of the land of multiple choice tests? Besides, school systems have proved numerous times that good data and test scores don't necessarily translate into success beyond high school. All you have to do is look at the previous scandals in Texas and New York to see that standardized test scores can be twisted in any number of ways and that they don't necessarily accurately reflect student understanding and skill level or the ability to apply those skills later in life. As you stated, there are simply too many variables involved to be hinging public opinion of teachers on standardized test results.