Thursday, May 16, 2013

Standardized Testing is Not the Fundamental Problem

Bruce Taterka, a teacher and member of the 2011-12 New Jersey Department of Education Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee, has a good op-ed explaining why N.J. Teacher Evaluation on the Wrong Track.

Getting rid of bad teachers and rewarding good ones is all the rage in education these days, and the central planners are busy figuring out ways to evaluate which are which. Like any collectivist approach, the focus will have to be on creating some metric to measure collective performance. 

Not surprisingly, student standardized testing has emerged as a key measuring stick for accomplishing that goal. The idea is to test students to measure the progress of entire classes, schools, and even districts, with a rising average score indicating a good teacher (or school or district), and a stagnant or falling average the opposite. What about the unique attributes of the individual students? This is a collectivist approach, remember. Taterka writes:

The state will use a complex formula — the Student Growth Percentile, or “SGP” — in which a student takes a test at the beginning of the year and again at the end; students’ scores are compared statewide to calculate each teacher’s “effectiveness.”

Taterka calls this scheme "a disaster" because "So many factors that affect student learning are outside the teacher’s control." He lists some of those factors, and cites his experience on the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee, including the testimony of several experts, to back up his views.

But Taterka is a public school establishment type, and consequently misses the fundamental problem. I left these comments:

The problem is not so much the tests as who is administering them and how they are used.

The biggest flaw in this whole evaluation craze is that it cuts the parents out of the decision-making loop. The people who are best equipped to evaluate what's best for the child, including if and how to use standardized tests, are the people who actually know the child, the parents and their children's teachers. They are the ones who should decide if and how to apply standardized tests. But, for that to happen, parents must have decision-making power over their children's teachers and schools--something they don't have now. That will only happen when we have a free market, where parents and education providers are free to contract voluntarily to mutual advantage, or agree to disagree and go their separate ways. We can begin moving in that direction with a universal school choice plan.

Until then, I couldn't agree more that the current scheme is a bad one. But, any evaluation scheme outside of the context of the parents' moral right to have final say concerning the course of their children's education is a sham.

The idea that central planners pouring over test scores to come up with some teacher rating determined by a hypothetical average student will tell you nothing of the educational issues, needs, and problems of individual students, or how effectively a teacher deals with them. A collectivist approach to evaluation not only can't work--because children are not averages but sovereign individuals--it is unfair to teacher, student, and parent.

The whole point of government-run schools is to cut the parents out and minimize their influence. That must change. A free market--getting government coercion out of education--is the only genuine teacher evaluation plan, 

Related Reading:

The Conflict Over Standardized Testing is a Consequence of Government-Run Schools. 

Teacher Accountability Follows from Genuine Market Activity.

By All Means, Let Parents Lead

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