Should standardized test scores be utilized as a basis for determining school/teacher effectiveness?
Pro position – removing standardized test scores as a measure for teacher effectivness will increase student achievement.
Many politicians use educational improvement as a driving force for their campaign platforms. However, fulfilling the promise to raise educational standards and achievement is often difficult to actually accomplish given budget cuts and the diverse student population. George W. Bush, in his administration, adopted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation to help fix the educational woes in this country. While this program in its complexity has achieved a lot of success, some of the specific issues within NCLB have created educational controversy. One such area is that of using standardized test scores to rate teacher effectiveness. Now, research shows that removing standardized test scores as an NCLB measure of teacher effectiveness will not harm and may actually increase student levels of achievement.
The NCLB legislation of 2002 defines what a qualified teacher is. Among provisions of level of education, experience and licensure is the teacher track record of test scores. One research group that visited classrooms to watch qualified teachers teach reported that “employing standardized assessments of good teaching” (Pianta, 2007, p. 36) was often used to classify a qualified teacher. However, this focus soon produced some negative effects on learning. Students were not being taught critical thinking in all areas but only in regards to specific test items and categories. As a result, the committee concluded that “a focus on standards-based reform and teacher credentialing may lead to instruction that is overly broad and thin” (Pianta, 2007, p37). Teaching to the test in order to meet effectiveness standards is not a practice that benefits student achievement.
One reason this problem occurs is the fact that most standardized tests used to measure teacher effectiveness are focused on reading and math skills. In many instances, these tests are focused upon to the exclusion of many other indicators of achievement. Skills such as critical thinking and decision making can be learned in other classrooms including foreign language, social studies and vocational explorations. Representative George Miller of California is instrumental is instrumental in the ongoing revision process of NCLB and has consistently entreated Congress to relax the focus on reading and math alone when considering what constitutes effective schools and teaching. He would like to include information such as graduation rates and college enrollment figures to the mix. “ ‘We’re asking for this information to be made available for a more complete picture of how a school is performing” Rep. Miller said…’” (Hoff, 2007, p.22) These items are less tangible than a test score but are also indicative of teacher effectiveness.
Another problem with using test scores to primarily determine quality teaching and schools is the idea presented by NCLB and its supporters that achievement tests across the boards are all measuring the same things and in the same ways. However, tests that purport to measure the same skills may vary widely and even contain bias. “…the adjective ‘achievement’ in ‘achievement test’ actually means what it says… ‘achievement’ refers to a ‘result gained by effort’ and also to ‘the quality and quantity of a student’s work’” (Popham, 2007, p88). The author goes on to ask the question – “So wouldn’t you think that an achievement test would refer to what a student has learned in school?” His answer is “no.” He asserts that many so-called achievement test items actually measure a student’s socio-economic status and even his genetic aptitude, which is a potential for learning not a measure of achievement.
In fact, measuring achievement on a student-by-student basis through mass standardized test is almost impossible. Popham summarizes, “Students who, at birth, came up winners in the gene-pool lottery will tend to perform better on these aptitude-linked items than will their genetically less fortunate classmates” (89). Beyond mere genetically predisposed ability, questions can even be racially biased. One question on an SAT test centered around the word “regatta” – a sporting event almost exclusively competed among wealthy white males (Fullinwider ; Lichtenberg, 2004, p. 95). Tests that are supposed to measure achievement very often do not, measuring instead one’s racial or socioeconomic status.
Standardized tests do not do what they are supposed to do much of the time. As a result, it is not fair to evaluate teacher effectiveness, and even pay, based upon these standards. Students do not achieve more by focusing so rigidly on these tests and may, in fact, achieve less. In addition, teachers are stifled in their levels of creativity, only able to harp on test items because their pay and status may depend upon it. Hopefully, legislators in charge of revising NCLB will make adjustments for these problems.
Fullinwider, R K. and Lichtenberg, J. (2004).Leveling the Playing Field. Maryland:
Rowen and Littlefield, 2004.
Hoff, D J. (2007). Spellings Takes issue With NCLB Draft Bill. Education Week 27.3:
Pianta, R C. (2007). Measure Actual Classroom Teaching. Education Week 27.11: 36-38
Popham, W. J. (2007). A Test Is a Test Is a Test–Not! Educational Leadership 64.4:88- 89
PRO POSITION – REMOVING STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES AS A MEASURE FOR TEACHER EFFECTIVNESS WILL INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT.
1. Testing forces teachers to teach to the test, omitting many other important lessons and skills in the process.
2. Math and reading are the primary focuses, making other disciplines take a back-seat when it comes to attention and emphasis
3. Achievement tests are supposed to measure LEARNING not INTELLIGENCE, RACE or SOCIOECONOMIC LEVELS. However, many of them fail in this are.
4. Measuring an individual student’s achievement in a test administered to the masses is virtually impossible.
5. Teachers are paid based on test scores, forcing them to conform in the manner and focus of teaching. This stifles creativity.