Thanks to Race to the Top (RTTT) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the United States has increasingly become a nation where children are trapped behind desks with #2 pencils and bubble sheets. Student testing, originally devised as a metric for measuring individual student progress and helping teachers identify specific needs, has become an instrument of teacher and school evaluation, one teachers argue is not effective or appropriate. Long-resistant to the abuses of student testing, some teachers are starting to fight back, wanting the best for their students.
In Portland, teachers are being assaulted for refusing to lend their signatures to the district’s RTTT application. Teacher Adam Sanchez notes that while teachers have been sharply criticized in the media for not supporting the district’s application, the media have been leaving out some important facts behind the story. Like the fact that funds through the program wouldn’t address issues like teacher shortages and ballooning class sizes, which directly harm children and teachers alike.
And the fact that the application relies heavily on testing as a measure of teacher performance and accountability, despite the fact that testing is an extremely flawed measure and predictor of outcomes:
The single most important factor contributing to low student achievement is poverty. Study after study has shown that there is a strong correlation between family income and test scores. Those who have wealthy parents are at the top, and low-income students are at the bottom.
If one wants a biased measure of teacher and student performance, in other words, standardized tests are excellent; and if one is interested in the zip codes of students, such tests can be highly useful. In terms of measuring actual student achievements as well as teacher efficacy, though, standardized testing is largely ineffective. Researchers earlier this year, in fact, found that data suggest “they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction” in Texas, and these findings likely hold implications for the rest of the nation as well.
Portland’s teachers aren’t alone in refusing to sit down for flawed approaches to education reform that rely heavily on test results instead of more holistic measures of teacher and student outcomes. Their concerns about the reliance on testing above all other metrics illustrate the complex intersections within the US school system, like the fact that race and income still have a profound effect on the quality of education received and the likelihood of future success for US students.
It also doesn’t escape the notice of education advocates that student testing is a very profitable business, especially in the case of high-stakes testing used to make “definitive” evaluations of teachers and districts. Some are concerned that the ultimate outcome of testing could be a dismantling of the public education system in the US, where an attempt to homogenize and codify children and teachers results in destruction of effective teaching methods and access to a high quality free public education for students.
As the future of this nation’s innovation, economy and more, children need the best education possible, and teachers stand ready to provide it. Their concerns about standardized testing should be alarming parents across the country, because they speak to very real worries about the quality of education they can provide, and the best outcome for students in the classroom. If the shared collective goal is for better education in the United States, it’s time to take a hard look at education policy and wonder when, why, and how testing became so integral to assessing students and teachers — and whether it’s the right choice for US schools.
Photo credit: boon chuan low