Bill Gates is finally admitting what people who actually work in schools have been saying for the past 10 years. Trying to hastily evaluate teachers by over-reliance on standardized test results is a fool’s errand.
Many of the most important things counselors, social workers and many teachers do (think art, music, drama, PE) for our kids cannot be measured by standardized tests; yet, the current law insists that 50% of their evaluation, which is now tied to possible termination, should rely on them. Before you know it, PE teachers will be balking when an overweight child (who might not pass the physical fitness test), is put into their class and AP Physics teachers will only want to teach the top test scorers.
PLEASE- schools don’t need the added distraction of pitting teachers against each other (my test is harder than your test) and more tragically, vying for the “best and brightest” to help them keep their job. Their job is to educate every kid who walks in the door, rich or poor, fat or skinny, gifted or not. You will hear that the “value-added” scores will take care of that, but with all the variability in teaching assignments, expense of scoring and lack of valid assessments, it’s just not going to happen. The Florida statistical Value added formula is so complicated (see above) that tests must be sent out of state to be analyzed for accuracy. Is that really where we want to spend our tax dollars?
Furthermore, the higher the stakes (think Atlanta) the more security that is required to prevent cheating and I’m not talking about the kids. When test scores become the most valued indicator of what makes a good school, teachers and administrators will spend all of their time focusing on that. Our children are the real losers.
If you are a high school parent in Florida, you recently received a notice that looked something like this-Upcoming Testing Schedule:
April 8 – FCAT Math Retakes
April 9 & 10 – FCAT Reading Retakes (Testing Session allowed from 9:00 to 12:25 unless they have extended time).
April 15 & 16 – FCAT 10th Graders (Two 70 minute sessions unless they have extended time)
April 22 & 23 – FCAT 9th Graders (Two 70 minute sessions unless they have extended time)
April 29 – US HISTORY EOC (160 minute session)
May 1 & 2 – PERT for Seniors (untimed test)
May 6 – Biology EOC (160 minute session)
May 13 – Algebra EOC (160 minute session)
May 20 – Geometry EOC (160 minute session)
*This does not include required practice tests or make-up dates or Advanced Placement tests.
Think about the logistics for a minute. For each of these tests, students have to be pulled out of their current classes in other subjects and go down to the media center or computer labs (and kick out the students who were in there learning) to take the tests. And guess what–this is only the tip of the iceberg! The tests above only cover about 20% of the classes taught in a typical high school. This is why so many Florida teachers at all grade levels (over 50%?) had to use scores of kids or subjects they didn’t teach in order to have a test score assigned to them to meet the law!
As soon as all the EOCs (end of course exams) are developed for the 400 high school course offerings that aren’t included above, there will not be a moment during the last 3 months of school when some type of high stakes/high security test is being administered at your child’s school. None of these tests are necessary for a student to graduate, only to satisfy this misguided law to tie teachers’ pay to standardized tests! Ah, remember the “good old days” when teachers could give and grade their own final exams at the end of the school year and students could see what they missed? Those days are coming to an end. Do the folks who are dreaming these laws up have any idea of the disruption and wasted learning time that results?
Almost every teacher I know wants to do a good job. After much research we know which teacher practices are the most effective; the challenge is to help weaker teachers learn to incorporate them. This can only come about in a coaching and collaborative school approach. We don’t need an out-of-control bulldozer to weed the garden. School districts in collaboration with teachers can do this. Here’s what I recommend we get started with:
- School Boards, superintendents and principals- roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to help the teachers who need it, get rid of the ones who can’t or don’t want to do a good job and give tons of support to the ones who are in there doing a good job every day.
- Teachers unions- fight for teacher’s rights, but don’t protect the few “bad apples” that are spoiling the barrel. The majority of teachers will thank you.
- Parents- get involved with your school and your child. Ask how you can help. Speak up if your child’s teacher is not doing a good job. Don’t forget to thank them when they do!
- Legislature – quit thinking you know how to best evaluate teachers. You don’t. Back off.
- Citizens: Make funding our schools, pre-K-20, your top priority. Boost salaries and working conditions so principals can attract and hire the BEST qualified teachers in the country. Recognize that all schools are not created equal and give the most support to schools and teachers who are serving our neediest families. Don’t blame them– help them.