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Learning the Hard Way: The False Promises of Standardized Tests

scourge-of-testing-web

Learning the Hard Way by amerigus

My daughter sees a math tutor, a bright young med school student from Pakistan. She told me last weekend my daughter still struggles, but she was shocked to hear that “every single kid” in her class has a math tutor. I was shocked to learn this too, but for another reason.

Over a decade ago, the federal government sought to “fix” low-performance in schools, but not by increasing learning, rather by increasing standardized testing and leveling threats against those whose scores don’t magically rise. In NY and NJ, newly implemented evaluations say teachers who show progress on student’s standardized test scores are more likely to retain their jobs, and in some cases might “win” cash bonuses.

My daughter attends a high-performing suburban school where well-educated parents have kids laser-focused on academic performance. In these districts, the question is not how many kids get into college, it’s how many get into the Ivy League. So all that private tutoring, usually ranging in price from $50-$150 per hour, is going to be skewing the bejesus out of state-mandated teacher evaluations.

In classes where many of the students get private, one-on-one instruction time, the teacher evaluation numbers can be thrown way off, creating supposed “superteachers” — but only on paper. And if judging teachers via their students’ test results gives inexact data out in the burbs, what’s it doing in NY’s urban settings?

I teach in a crime-addled community in the inner city, where working class, immigrant and impoverished families produce a mix of kids who face poverty, drugs or gangs, and that’s just for starters.

Seeing the new evaluations coming, two of the best math teachers in my school left last summer. Both relatively early in their careers, they transferred to schools in neighborhoods where students will score higher on tests. They knew from experience that students three years behind grade level when they enter a school are highly unlikely to make up significant ground.

Another matter is the “mainstreaming” of special needs students, placed in crowded classes because of funding shortfalls or long backlogs in evaluating and classifying kids with ADD/ADHD, emotional disabilities or other issues. From day one, we see so many of these kids cannot focus long for “desk work”, demanding inordinate teacher time. But because they are as-yet unevaluated, they are considered “general ed” and will again skew teacher evaluations.

Because of other home factors such as neglect, abuse, depression or homelessness, success in school is increasingly supported by “wraparound” services like health checks, or counseling which look at problems more holistically. These services are close to non-existent in my school, while suburban schools in the region can offer weekly one-on-one counselor meetings for every student.

The high number of transient families in the inner city means students are constantly entering and leaving school. But if a new student arrives just before the state exams, it still counts fully towards their evaluation, skewing the measurements. Likewise, students instructed all year by a math or ELA teacher could leave just before the tests. With this, administrators can game the system by intentionally making last-minute shuffles. [cont’d.]

Photo by biologycorner under Creative Commons license

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Learning the Hard Way: The False Promises of Standardized Tests

scourge-of-testing-web

Learning the Hard Way by amerigus, all non-com creative commons uses granted

My daughter sees a math tutor, a bright young med school student from Pakistan. She told me last weekend my daughter still struggles, but she was shocked to hear that “every single kid” in her class has a math tutor. I was shocked to learn this too, but for another reason.

Over a decade ago, the federal government sought to “fix” low-performance in schools, but not by increasing learning, rather by increasing standardized testing and leveling threats against those whose scores don’t magically rise. In NY and NJ, newly implemented evaluations say teachers who show progress on student’s standardized test scores are more likely to retain their jobs, and in some cases might “win” cash bonuses.

My daughter attends a high-performing suburban school where well-educated parents have kids laser-focused on academic performance. In these districts, the question is not how many kids get into college, it’s how many get into the Ivy League. So all that private tutoring, usually ranging in price from $50-$150 per hour, is going to be skewing the bejesus out of state-mandated teacher evaluations.

In classes where many of the students get private, one-on-one instruction time, the teacher evaluation numbers can be thrown way off, creating supposed “superteachers” — but only on paper. And if judging teachers via their students’ test results gives inexact data out in the burbs, what’s it doing in NY’s urban settings?

I teach in a crime-addled community in the inner city, where working class, immigrant and impoverished families produce a mix of kids who face violence, drugs or gangs, and that’s just for starters.

Seeing the new evaluations coming, two of the best math teachers in my school left last summer. Both relatively early in their careers, they transferred to schools in neighborhoods where students will score higher on tests. They knew from experience that students three years behind grade level when they enter a school are highly unlikely to make up significant ground.

Another matter is the “mainstreaming” of special needs students, placed in crowded classes because of funding shortfalls or long backlogs in evaluating and classifying kids with ADD/ADHD, emotional disabilities or other issues. From day one, we see so many of these kids cannot focus long for “desk work”, demanding inordinate teacher time. But because they are as-yet unevaluated, they are considered “general ed” and will again skew teacher evaluations.

Because of other home factors such as neglect, abuse, depression or homelessness, success in school is increasingly supported by “wraparound” services like counseling or  health checks which look at problems more holistically. These services barely exist in my school, while suburban schools in the region can offer weekly one-on-one counselor meetings for every student.

The high number of transient families in the inner city means students are constantly entering and leaving school. But if a new student arrives just before the state exams, it still counts fully, skewing the measurements. Likewise, students instructed all year by a math or ELA teacher could leave just before the tests. With this, administrators can game the system by intentionally making last-minute shuffles.

The new teacher evaluations, which led to a week-long strike in Chicago last September, are ensuring the NY kids who need great teachers the most are now more likely to see them flee, or switch to a non-tested subject area. Low performing schools will continue to repel talent, but in high performing schools, teachers will be artificially and arbitrarily rewarded thanks in part to the tens of thousands spent on private tutoring.

The English teacher in my daughter’s school who was recognized for showing the most progress in her grade last year confided in me that she has no magic formula, she has been teaching the same exact way for over ten years, but that each crop of students simply varies in performance.

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