We wish to thank Rosalie Friend, Educator and New York City Save Our Schools Information Coordinator, for her reflection.

In Acknowledgement of Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7, 2012 to May 11, 2012. When I asked teachers how to show appreciation, many wished we could reduce the burden of high stakes tests. On behalf of Save Our Schools, I urge you to stop depending on test scores to make serious decisions about the future of students, teachers and schools. Observe National Teacher Appreciation Week by working to remove the burden that high stakes tests are placing on teachers, schoolchildren, and taxpayers.

Standardized tests can be a useful indicator of children’s learning. However, when student promotion, teacher retention, and school closings are based solely on test results, teachers, administrators and parents have children practice test taking skills, which interferes with the validity of the test results. This is especially harmful since test prep often features superficial questions while the curriculum it is replacing features analysis, critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving. Donald Campbell, one of the founders of the field of program evaluation, showed that high stakes assessment distorted processes in factories and medical practices as well as schools. Indeed we find many schools reducing instruction in science, social studies, art, music, and gym in order to focus on language arts and mathematics for the examinations.

Aggregating children’s test scores to evaluate teachers and schools is even more harmful. It distorts the relationship between teachers and students. However the main problem with using student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers is that these tests have NO VALIDITY for that purpose. The tests are not designed to give that kind of data. Furthermore, statisticians disavow the use of value added modeling of student scores for teacher evaluation; this sophisticated statistical technique cannot be used with small data sets. In addition, we have no way to determine what part of a student’s score is due to parents, previous instruction, conditions in the school, the student’s ability, resources available for instruction, etc. Another problem is that study after study has shown that teachers’ “grades” on these tests swing widely from year to year. If a test does not identify the same teachers as effective year after year, it is not measuring whether the person is a good teacher. This shows that the scores are due to factors other than the teacher’s work.

See Economic Policy Institute’s Briefing Paper #278, “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers” for a formal statement by the experts cited above. The co-authors include educational historian Diane Ravitch and Robert L. Linn, the expert’s expert on school assessment and author of the leading textbook on assessment.

Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards require that states and cities spend millions of dollars to develop additional tests. Meanwhile many school districts are reducing the number of highly trained teachers employed in the public schools. This reallocation of resources should be questioned. Research has shown consistently that smaller class size and highly trained teachers increase school learning and narrow the racial and socioeconomic gaps in school achievement. On the other hand, a decade of increased testing in response to No Child Left Behind has not led to any reduction in racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps or improvement in the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

Labeling test scores as objective is misleading. Since high stakes test scores are not an accurate indicator of student learning or teacher effectiveness, they should not be used for making decisions. Basing policy on inaccurate “data” is not good business or good public policy. In order to help children learn, we should provide highly trained teachers supervised by administrators who are instructional leaders rather than applying a business model to schools. Businesses are not known for nurturing; children will benefit more from being nurtured and instructed than from being measured.

Rosalie Friend
Information Coordinator, NYC
Save Our Schools