Emerson said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” and Arne Duncan and the US DOE are proving the point.
THE MISUSE AND OVERUSE OF TESTING
What should the purpose of testing be in public schools? To hear US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, you’d think that testing was the goal of education…the only way that we can evaluate student progress. He apparently doesn’t believe that teachers have the ability to evaluate students except through the results of yearly standardized tests.
California has decided to change the standardized tests they use and the legislature has chosen to skip testing for a year in order to ease the transition to the new, Common Core (CCSS) based exams.
The proposed law would end the standardized exams used since 1999 and replace them next spring with a computerized system. The purpose is to advance new learning goals, called the Common Core standards, that have been adopted by 45 states.
California would be moving up its timetable for the computerized tests by a year, leaving some school districts scrambling to prepare. The plan also would result in the suspension of test scores for at least a year during a trial run of the new exams.
While one year of a “trial run” of the new tests isn’t really enough to determine the validity of the CCSS it’s clear that the California legislature learned from the New York experience with new CCSS-based tests.
Arne Duncan, however, sees it differently…
“Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools’ performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition,” he said in a statement. “No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing.”
The article continues…
“If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds,” Duncan said.
The education secretary isn’t demanding that every eligible student have test scores during the transition from old to new tests, said spokesman Massie Ritsch. But students either need to be participating in the official field test of the new exam or to be taking tests that will result in scores.
Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education are essentially telling California, “Test your students using a standardized test which will yield ‘scores’ or you don’t get any money.”
The sheer ignorance of this response takes my breath away. It shows that Duncan and his Department of Education know nothing about teaching and learning. It is insulting to teachers and parents alike and shows the contempt that they have for actual education professionals and their clients.
Arne Duncan, remember, has no experience in educating children. His stint as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was focused on closing public schools and opening privately operated charters. Duncan’s college degree is in Sociology, the study of human social behavior, not education. His college and previous professional experience is in basketball. His closest brush with actual teaching was watching his mother tutor students. He never taught in a public school. He never even attended a public school.
It’s therefore understandable that he knows nothing — absolutely nothing — about the process of teaching and about what goes on in the classrooms of America’s public schools. He apparently doesn’t know that teachers are constantly evaluating their students. Standardized tests are, of course, not the only way that student evaluation occurs (and by this statement I am making an unfounded assumption that standardized tests do, indeed, evaluate student learning). Teachers give tests, quizzes and homework, lead discussions and observe student behavior and work…and in doing so, gain an understanding of a student’s progress.
Furthermore, teachers also report on their students’ progress to parents through quarterly reports, mid-term reports, parent/teacher conferences, phone calls, emails and notes home. Parents also initiate face to face conferences, telephone calls and written communications with teachers.
To say that students won’t be evaluated unless they produce “scores”…that students and their families won’t be informed of student progress…is pathetically ignorant. To imply that teachers and parents won’t communicate with each other about the progress of America’s children unless they can point to and look at a printout from Pearson or McGraw-Hill is insulting to both teachers and parents.
VALUE ADDED MEASURES OF TEACHER EVALUATION
The use of student test scores to evaluate teachers is inappropriate as most people familiar with testing and statistics will tell you. Tests are appropriate for that which they were intended. Standardized tests are designed to evaluate student knowledge (whether they do that effectively is another discussion entirely). They were not designed to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
Proponents of Value Added Measures of teacher evaluation might argue that there has to be some way to measure teacher effectiveness and current teacher evaluation plans are inadequate to the task.
Whether this is true or not is debatable, but forcing everyone into a statistically unsound system is not the answer. Linda Darling-Hammond suggests seven research-based items necessary for effective teacher evaluation systems:
- Teacher evaluation should be based on professional teaching standards
- Evaluations should include multi-faceted evidence of teacher practice, student learning, and professional contributions
- Evaluators should be knowledgeable about instruction and well trained in the evaluation system
- Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, and connected to professional development opportunities
- The evaluation system should value and encourage teacher collaboration
- Expert teachers should be part of the assistance and review process
- Panels of teachers and administrators should oversee the evaluation process
“Reformers” use a false dichotomy of either VAM-based teacher evaluations or ineffective evaluations so more and more state departments of education are forcing all their public schools and public school systems to use student test scores as part of the teacher evaluation process.
This is despite the fact that there are evaluation processes which have proved very successful. For example, Peer Assistance and Review approaches to teacher evaluation, like that used in Montgomery County Maryland (see HERE and HERE), have proved to be valuable and effective.
Research into VAM-based evaluation systems show that they come up short.
Teacher VAM scores should emphatically not be included as a substantial factor with a fixed weight in consequential teacher personnel decisions. The information they provide is simply not good enough to use in that way. It is not just that the information is [statistically] noisy. Much more serious is the fact that the scores may be systematically biased for some teachers and against others…
…VAMs may have a modest place in teacher evaluation systems, but only as an adjunct to other information, used in a context where teachers and principals have genuine autonomy in their decisions about using and interpreting teacher effectiveness esti- mates in local contexts.
In an excerpt from, The Mismeasure of Education authors Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn discuss teacher assessment using student test scores…
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for states in the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant money, states like Tennessee rushed to implement a federally recommended system whereby value-added growth scores would come to dominate teacher evaluation for educators who teach tested subjects. And contrary to the most basic notions of accountability and fairness, two-thirds of Tennessee teachers who teach non-tested subjects are being evaluated based on school-wide scores in their schools, rather than their own.
…What value-added modeling has contributed to the testing fairness formula by acknowledging different starting points in the testing race, it takes away by helping to conceal the chasms that constitute the inequalities that mark the radically different starting points of the disadvantaged and the privileged. Meanwhile, Tennessee remains, by State Commissioner Huffman’s own admission, in the “bottom ten states in the country in educational outcomes,” even after twenty-plus years of corporate education reform and value-added assessment.
By forcing states who wish to get federal assistance for education into VAM Teacher Evaluation systems the US Department of Education is using the same coercive techniques that they used in the Bush administration’s Reading First debacle. Instead of distributing federal education funds based on need, the DOE is coercing states to use inappropriate and inaccurate measures of teacher evaluation.
The US Department of Education is being run by small minds who don’t know enough about education to keep from doing damage. We’d be better off without them entirely.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.