Cuts For School Kids, But More Tax Dollars For Tests?
Using evidence from just 0.3 percent of our school population, our politicos are fine with justifying the billions spent on testing math and reading. And now they want to roll that system out to every subject in every grade. And mostly for the purpose of following a pig-in-a-poke plan for evaluating teachers.
Once that valuable "data" has been captured, the children will be confronted with yet another assessment with similarly designed items some time later in the academic calendar to determine how well their art teacher has improved their ability to handle such weighty tasks. Then the art teacher can, in turn, be either rewarded with "merit pay" or punished with a "de-merit" of some sort, for his or her "effectiveness" at pushing children through these hurdles. Or, as in the case of Los Angeles, the teacher can be publically humiliated in the local newspaper.
The whole concept of this assessment process, called "value added measures," is flawed from the git-go, as psychology professor Daniel Willingham explains in this YouTube
Despite the valid criticisms of VAM, the makers of these tests continue to assure our political leaders that they can develop "better" tests that avoid these vagaries, and the advocates for their use continue to persuade lawmakers that these tests should at least comprise a percentage of the criteria used to evaluate teachers -- currently 51 percent in Colorado, 40 percent in New York.
Even teachers unions have had to give ground on these standardized test-based teacher evaluations. The American Federation of Teachers currently has over 50 locals piloting teacher evaluation systems that include test scores, and the National Education Association, at least at the national level just recently showed a willingness to include "valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests" in teacher evaluations.
To get a grip on the real science of these evaluation systems, it's really easy to get deep into the weeds as Bruce Baker demonstrated at his blog School Finance 101 the other day, when he concluded that the evaluation to end all evaluation of evaluation systems, "Passing Muster" from The Brookings Institution, was itself not a very good evaluation.
Instead of throwing more and more money at the problem (a phrase conservatives love to use to criticize school teachers), what makes better sense is to take a step back to review the bigger picture of what this test obsession hath wrought. Earlier this week at Huffington Post John Thompson did just that and concluded that it's time to throw test-obsessed "data-driven accountability hawks on the ash pile of history,"
Citing a report from the Education Trust, he pointed out that "data-driven accountability has largely failed" in the two states subjected to the report's analysis: Maryland and Indiana. And he brought up a McKinsey Group study that argued the worth of test-based accountability for schools using evidence from "just three school systems serving less than 157,000 students have moved from 'fair' to 'good.' That represents 0.3 percent of the nation's public school students."
Got that? Using evidence from just 0.3 percent of our school population, we're fine with justifying the billions spent on testing math and reading. And now we want to roll that system out to every subject in every grade? And mostly for the purpose of following a pig-in-a-poke plan for evaluating teachers?
Clearly it's time for someone to stop the madness. And this week it looks like someone may have. As edu-blog Thoughts on Public Education reported, California governor Jerry Brown is proposing to suspend funding for the state's student longitudinal data system and to stop further planning the teacher database that's tied to it. Expressing skepticism for the idea that it makes sound policy to shell out billions while cutting kindergarten and books, the governor is calling for a hiatus to, according to the blog post, "involve parents, scholars, teachers and administrators to develop policies that will reduce the time devoted to standardized testing, eliminate data collecting thatĂ˘€™s not useful to local schools."
So let's hope that California, often considered a bellwether state, is the first sign of a major course correction in our nation's education policy.
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