The following letter appeared in the New York Times Sunday Dialogue: How to Rate Teachers. My response follows.
Oh pshaw, here we go again, another educator decrying objective student testing in favor of subjective “evaluations” by school leaders and peers. And then these educators lament the imprecise and subjective nature of the evaluations.
The only way to properly measure teacher success is by student progress. Don’t we measure the success of car salesmen by how many cars they sell? Or physicians by the number of correct diagnoses and successful procedures? Why should teachers be any different?
And let’s label the criticism of “teaching to the test” as the smokescreen that it is. After all, how better to measure math skills than by doing math problems and having them reviewed by teachers? And how better to measure reading comprehension than by reading and asking students to explain what they have read?
New York, March 15, 2012
Mr. Leslie (or if I may, Dick):
First of all, you seem to have progress and outcome confused. Fortunately, I am a patient teacher, and can help.
Progress based assessments measure how much a student has learned, and how much they have improved. They come in a variety of forms – traditional quizes, essays, science projects, oral presentations. Progress based assessments are ideal for both teachers and students. They are a realistic indicator of knowledge gained.
Outcome based assessments are one shot tests that measure how well a student performs on one exam on a single day. State mandated exams are outcome based. They are frequently referred to as “high stakes” tests because a lot is riding on them, including future funding for schools. (This is a whole other issue.) The problem with these exams is that they do not measure progress, but rather – you guessed it – outcome!
Teachers don’t want to do away with all types assessments. We do want to place less emphasis on the state-mandated exams, or at least have a larger role in helping to create them. These exams do not take into account the different rates at which students learn, or the different ways students demonstrate intelligence.
Secondly, the term “teaching to the test” refers to creating lessons based solely around these impending annual state assessments. These tests are changing, but for the most part, they do not require higher level thinking like analyzing or inferring. In addition, skills like writing are not being prioritized because they are not on The Test. In some schools, science and social studies classes are taught only in the grades that test that subject. Not to mention of course, the schools that no longer have fine arts programs – programs that often make the difference in retaining at risk students who would otherwise drop out.
I agree; it is realistic to measure reading comprehension by “asking students to explain what they read.” The problem is that students are required to take exams based on their age instead of their reading level. I’ve taught elementary school students who jumped three grade levels in reading in one year. This is tremendous progress. Both the students and I should be rewarded. However, a fifth grader who is still only reading at a fourth or third grade level will fail not only the state mandated reading exam, but also the social studies and science exams because the language is too difficult.
You mention that teaching involves students “doing math problems and having them reviewed by teachers.” Yes – we like to review student work! We can figure out who still needs help, and who needs to be challenged more. Unfortunately, we don’t see the results of the the Big Test until students have already been passed along to the next grade. Not so helpful.
Lastly, the biggest risk of teaching to The Test, is that we are creating a nation of children who will not be ready to compete in a global economy.
Your view of students as numbers, or cars if you will, is unrealistic if not inhumane. If we continue to teach to the test, we are discouraging questioning, creativity, and intrinsic motivation. This type of teaching and learning will ultimately create a generation that is ill prepared for anything beyond an assembly line job.
This might satisfy you and Mr. Ford, but it scares the rest of us.
Amy Issadore Bloom
Washington, D.C. , March 23, 2012