Disturbing turn of events in today’s education
The newly-approved New York State Education Department agreement said, “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective student testing must be rated ineffective overall.” Two years of ineffective ratings would require that the teacher be discharged on the basis of student testing, regardless of the tested learners’ capabilities. This makes about as much sense as using the same standard to rate the success rate of physicians using the survival rate of dermatologists’ patients compared with those of cancer specialists’.
My major concern is not the effect on a teacher’s tenure, but rather the repercussions on the students and their learning opportunities.
Most testing experts believe that the methods used to calculate teachers’ abilities to produce higher test scores year after year are inaccurate, unstable and unreliable.
Teachers in affluent suburbs are more likely to get higher value-added scores than teachers of students with disabilities, students learning English and students from poverty or from less-than-supportive home environments. The rise or fall of test scores are often reflected in the classroom’s composition and factors beyond the teachers’ control not the teacher’s qualities. A teacher who is rated effective one year may be ineffective the next year, depending on which students are assigned to his or her classroom.
The system is rooted in the idea that one can draw a straight line from a teacher’s instruction to a student’s performance. Years of research have shown that conclusion to be baseless. There are many core variables in a student’s background and lifestyle that directly impact his or her learning style.
Students’ standardized test scores are directly correlated with their economic standings. In a “New York Times” article on April 25, 2011, Joe Nocera pointed out that “going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended - and unquestionably proved - that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn.”
Teachers must promote the highest level of achievement within each child and emphasize learning and thinking skills. Students should be able to take what they have learned and apply that knowledge to a variety of real-life situations. With this approach, teachers can promote authentic learning in their classrooms. Unfortunately, high-stakes testing procedures have begun to interfere with these goals. There has been a recent, increased emphasis on results’ being used to make judgements about teachers, rather than on the diagnostic learning needs and growth of individual students.
In accordance with state-mandated requirements, excessive time is given to standardized testing in today’s schools. There is too much out-of-classroom teaching time taken to administer tests. For example, during the first week in a typical third grade classroom, students have three major standardized tests taking up most of that week’s teaching time. What a turnoff to school for those children.
Measuring, assessing, processing, accounting and evaluating are part of today’s education lexicon. But what about teaching?
Formative testing used to be employed to improve student attainment. It typically involved qualitative feedback rather than scores, and served as a diagnostic tool to be used to guide teaching reinforcement and procedural activities for the benefit of the class and the individual student.
By contrast, summative assessment monitors educational outcomes, often for purposes of assigning grades and external accountability. Formative testing used to be continuously ongoing, whereas summative testing was periodic, typically at the end of a unit or semester. Today, the reverse is true: Summative testing is continuously ongoing. Formative testing? Well, if one can get to it.
My major concern is the detrimental impact this agreement will have on the value-added qualities of teaching excellence. This agreement will seriously imperil that which is most beneficial in the educational process for each child. That process is to meet every student’s distinct needs, right at his or her level of growth. To do less, or to be deterred from doing what we know is right educationally, is dishonest with the parent and unfair to the child!