The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Standardized Assessment for Teachers

     In February 2010, the superintendent and state education commissioner of Rhode Island agreed to fire every single staff member, principal included, at Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School because of poor performances on student standardized test scores. In July, 241 teachers working in Washington, D.C. were let go due to inadequate student test performances. Another 17 percent were given notice that, if scores did not improve in the next year, their jobs would be terminated as well. And, in August, the Los Angeles Times published a formula evaluating 6,000 elementary school teachers based on student standardized test scores.

     These events have been caused in part by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top Fund that promises large grants to states who demonstrate educational reform. This turnaround plan, including steps to terminate poorly-performing teachers and institute ones that will increase student success, is causing turmoil for hundreds of teachers; they are unfairly losing their jobs because of issues beyond their control.

     Evaluating teachers based on something as narrow and partial as standardized test scores is unthinkable. Teachers do not instruct students on how to fill in hundreds of multiple choice answers about mathematics and language arts; they teach students how to think outside of the box and apply education to everyday life. If determining whether or not a teacher is adequate is based on one test, then teachers should prepare students for the test, and only for the test, throughout the year. But that is not education. That is regurgitation. In a nation where serious education and critical thinking are so important, it is absurd to believe that the test-taking skills of students can make or break a school. There are too many variables that could explain a poor performance. For example, a student could have been ill during STAR tests and not performed to his/her best ability. Students might simply buckle under the stress of test-taking, but excel in school otherwise. Does that mean that their scores should affect the jobs of qualified teachers? This is punishing teachers for something that was, possibly, entirely the students’ faults.

     For example, many MSJ students treat standardized tests as something of a joke. For most, studying for these tests is out of the question. And, as seen by the school’s overall performance, MSJ students tend to perform quite well on these tests. But, that does not mean that every single teacher is the most effective. Similarly, in poorly-performing schools, teachers cannot be blamed for trying their level best to teach students who simply may not be able to perform up to par.

     This type of assessment lacks the complexity of actual education, and does not do teachers justice. In addition, publicizing rankings and including test scores as a component of evaluation can spark unnecessary, unhealthy competition between teachers, creating a race to see which teacher is ranked higher, or which one can produce the best test-takers.

Instead of this system, we should evaluate teachers on a more individual basis, assessing how they instruct different students. There are so many factors that describe the quality of a student’s performance, including his/her home environment, parents, and economic status. Only when a teacher can effectively teach students with varying factors does it show that the teacher is a capable instructor. Evaluations based on standardized tests do not take into consideration these differing factors, and cannot be such a major factor in “grading” a teacher.

     Like most other evaluations, standardized tests can be used for assessment to a certain point. However, that point does not extend to assessing teachers. We cannot threaten education like this, or dismiss staff on something as restricted as these test scores. There may be pressure from the Obama administration to implement educational reform by turning around inadequate schools, but we need to find a different, holistic way of determining which teachers are fit to instruct.

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