Standardized Tests: Now ineffective assessments of teacher performance too…

Those of you who follow the thoughts I share on my blog consistently have undoubtedly discovered my disdain for standardized testing. In fact, I have an entire post titled “What’s Wrong with NECAP Testing” that outlines what I believe are the failings of the standardized test for New England, where I am a teacher.

One point I did not really discuss in that previous post is the subsequent use of standardized test scores as means of evaluating teacher performance. If a test can not adequately assess student learning how can we then take that data and try to draw conclusions regarding how successful teachers are as educators. Yet, this is exactly what is happening in some places.

Through a teacher I follow on twitter (@coolcatteacher) an article on this topic was brought to my attention. It outlines the persecution one teacher faced based on her region’s standardized test scores, and the true story of who this teacher really is. I would strongly urge you to read this: “The True Story of Pascale Mauclair” shared on Cool Cat Teacher blog (The rest will make much more sense if you read this first).

I would hope that anyone with any respect for educators, any understanding of the educational process, or experience in the field of education would be as outraged and disgusted by the treatment of this woman. She should be praised for her dedication to providing education to all students. Working tirelessly, I am sure, to provide instruction to these students who without her may not have another option for education.

My first reaction to this article is if we continue down this path of basing teacher performance on student test grades we are going to create conflict and animosity between teachers in schools. It’s a lot easier to teach students who are already engaged in your content, have stable home lives, and amazingly speak the same language as you. So, does this mean that all teachers with seniority will be able to teach these classes, while new teachers will be assigned students who do not fit all or any of these characteristics?

As a new teacher, 3.5 years in, part of my identity as a science teacher is that I believe all students deserve access to science. Understanding science is one of the greatest ways to enrich your life. By understanding the natural world around us we become a more active and inspired member of it. In my few years teaching I have become the general educator in science on a team with three special educators. We are creating a class to provide students access to science. Students who prior to the past few years did not receive true science instruction because they we in alternative programs because of their wide variety of learning impairments or development disabilities.

Our class isn’t perfect; however, it is a step in the right direction. We have provided these students with much more valuable science instruction  and  are always adjust and improving it. These students will be taking the NECAP when they are in 11th grade, or will complete an alternative portfolio if eligible. Should my performance be judged based on these students NECAP scores, A test not designed for them as learners? Would it have been better if they weren’t in a science class? Another teacher can deal with them… These are the thoughts, the problems that stem from forcing teachers to worry about how they will be judged based on ineffective standardized test. Tests not designed with the variety of learners in mind.

Personally, I’d rather give a student the chance to succeed than ignore them so I am not considered a failure.

Another problem I have with the use of this test score is that anyone with any kind of basic stats knowledge could tell you that when you have a sample size of say 11, like Ms. Mauclair’s ESL classroom, conclusions drawn from that data are going to be unreliable given there is too little data. Beyond sample size, the bigger picture is that these students were taking a test, most likely in english, most like written, having had only a few months to a year instruction in the ESL classroom. Again, a test not designed for the learners.

I’d like to see lawyers pass their Bar Exam, a doctor pass the MCAT, or a business graduate student the GRE in a foreign language they have been learning for 3 months. It’s just not reasonable and that expectation would never be forced on those people, so why would it be forced on recently immigrating 6th grade students… it shouldn’t.

Most of all, I am outraged and frustrated at the system the allows teachers to be unjustly persecuted and diminished as professionals by journalists in the media and politicians in office that have no understanding of educational system. They clearly take no time to learn about, nor care to even attempt to understand what is actually behind these standardized test numbers. If they did, this teacher, myself  and so many others would not be feeling so disrespected and unappreciated in our professional.

It’s shameful, and we need it too change. Our students depend on it.


Assessment Overload: How to explode a teenage brain.

Assessment, this isn’t a new topic for me. I believe strongly in using assessment tools to judge student learning and adjust instruction, the basis of formative assessment. However, just how much can you, or should you, use a heavy duty standardized assessment to judge student learning? At what point do students get burnt out and the assessment tools just being “gotten over with” versus actually measuring student ability.

Over the past month and into the next few weeks students of various grades will be taking MAP testing in English, MAP testing in Math (two tests to judge student progress and can be compared year to year), SATs, NECAP Tests, AP tests,  on top of any quizzes, tests and other forms of assessment in their regular classes. ABSURD!

How can we expected students to be assessed accurately when they have to take 2, 3 even 4 standardized tests all with varying levels of actual importance to their lives. I know if I had NECAP tests, AP tests and SATs within a 3 week period the two tests that would further my college career and life in general would surely get more of my brain power than a test aiming to gauge student learning as a tool to assess the school as a whole, and has no bearing on me the individual student. Such is life as a human, we prioritize based on level of relative importance based on our own needs and goals.

All of these tests also take time, class time. To me there is a point at which the class time lost for all of these assessments inhibits the main goal, instruction and student learning, and the benefits of the assessment no longer out weigh the loses.

All I have to say is I’m glad I’m not a high school today dealing with all of these standardized tests, on top of school work, on top of being a teenager… a feat in itself.

If we want to truly measure student learning with accuracy something has got to give. If we continue to bombard students with test after test I’m afraid the despair I hear in their voices as they walk through the halls to “more testing” is going to translate in less effort on assessments because A) they have nothing left to give at test time or B) they are sick of spewing their brains out every couple of weeks onto another test.

Also, how good are these assessments anyways? From my training and experience as a teacher I have learned, read, and heard over and over standardized tests are not the best assessment tool. So, why are we using so many? Does a shotgun of standardized tests equal one actual good assessment? I doubt it, but that’s an issue all to itself.

Maybe a student brain explosion caused by assessment overload would lead to much needed changes, but I wouldn’t want it to be any of my students…