Do not use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers

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What makes a good teacher? I will bet that if you think back to your school years and try to remember your best teacher, you will think of someone funny, witty, creative or inspiring. You will remember the teacher who ignited your love of literature, took you on an amazing field trip, introduced you to musical theater or helped you excel in math. You will not, in all likelihood, remember or care to remember the impact any of your teachers had on your standardized test scores.

Yet that criterion will constitute 40 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation, according to the new rubric that the state Board of Regents recently approved.

As a parent, I care about how our children are performing in school and I agree that teacher performance makes a difference in determining student achievement. But at the same time, I do not worry much about children’s scores on high-stakes tests. Up or down, above or below any proficiency cutoff, the test scores fail to indicate what parents really care about: Is my child learning?

Instead, they are likely to reflect the rampant use of test-preparation drills that keep scores high but rob students of the opportunity for real learning. I reject the premise that high-stakes standardized tests provide an accurate picture of students’ performance and therefore the conclusion that it is appropriate to evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores.

There are many cases in which students’ test scores are beyond a teacher’s control. Even the best instructor cannot change a child’s home situation, socioeconomic status, previous educational experience, or attention span — all of which can factor in how well that child does on a standardized test.

Still, I do not oppose standardized tests altogether — as long as they are used fairly. State legislation that puts test results at 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation was reasonable. If 80 percent of teachers’ evaluations stem from factors other than test scores, teachers will be able to spend some classroom time on creative writing, science experiments, music, dance, art and public speaking. If nearly half of a teacher’s evaluation comes from test scores, anything that does not appear on a state test is likely to be tossed aside.

Test preparation has already crowded out a broad curriculum, as time and resources consistently shift away from any subject matter that will not appear on state examinations. There is a monetary cost, too, in the form of millions spent on test-prep materials as well as on administering and then grading exams.

Tying teacher evaluations to students’ test scores will only exacerbate the situation.

Mark Weprin

City Councilman

(D-Oakland Gardens)

Updated 10:52 am, October 12, 2011
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