Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama Administration: Tests will matter more!

Just read a New York Times article about the obama administration's push for education. It seems that the emphasis on students scores is only going to increase. Here's a quote

“We’re mindful of all the criticisms about federal overreaching, about too much testing, of all the complaints about No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Cunningham [Education Department spokesman ]said. “These complaints come up all the time in conversations about all our programs, not just this one, with education officials across the country. The context that No Child has generated is the context that we have to live with.”

The administration is also pushing that teacher evaluations be more closely tied to student test performance-- Many teachers, including myself, find this problematic. If you're asking, yourself 'Why don't teachers want to be assessed based on student performance?' you're probably not a teacher. It is not because I do not want to be held accountable--but rather becuase associating teacher performance with student test performance opens a pandora's box of issues--only a few of which I'll discuss.

#1) If you get a strong vs a weak class, your test scores will unfairly affect your reviews as a teacher--for better or for worse. All of us who have taught know how true this is--a strong class will do well no matter who teaches them and some classes are unmotivated no matter what you do. Moreover, I get 1-2 'skewed' classes a year (strong or bad) and that's over half of the number of classes I teach that take a standardized test. In other words, more than half of the data that would influence my year end performance will, on average, be comprised by a 'good' or 'bad' class's performance. Moreover, what about the teachers who only teach 1 standardized test based class?

#2) States will have even more of an interest in making tests easier. Anyone who has taught Math in New York state just needs to look at how easy the Math A regents (or the new Integrated Algebra) have become over the last 7 years or so. Also consider this, how can you hold an Integrated Geometry teacher responsible for low test scores on the difficult Geometry test when the same students passed the prior year's integrated Algebra exam--even though the latter test is a complete joke requiring like 1/3 of the total points to pass?

#3) It's almost a gurantue that by encouraging teachers to 'teach to the test' the 'good' teachers who encourage true thinking and inquiry will have to replace thought provoking education will test tricks--trust me, test tricks work but they do not necessarily teach much else.

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