One of the regular commentators on this blog – and a heartfelt critic of standardized testing – sent me an Education Week article that highlights teacher skepticism about the value of such tests. As the article reports,
Most teachers do not believe standardized tests have significant value as measures of student performance, according to a new report published jointly by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The report, based on a survey of more than 10,000 public school teachers, finds that only 28 percent of educators see state-required standardized tests as an essential or very important gauge of student achievement. In addition, only 26 percent of teachers say standardized tests are an accurate reflection of what students know.
This finding doesn’t surprise me, but I’d note that most colleges and universities with selective admissions haven’t abandoned standardized tests. Also, as the same Education Week article notes,
Many policymakers believe that value-added analysis of tests scores scores offers a critical window on individual teachers’ effectiveness, a position that some research at least tentatively supports.
I assume this is a reference to the recent study that surprised its own authors by finding that value-added teacher assessments (based on test scores) had surprisingly strong, and long term, predictive power. I’m reposting a link to the New York Times article about this story.
It’s easy to spin the Education Week account as a clueless teachers or clueless policymakers story, but I really don’t want to go there. It strikes me that the survey actually reveals a fair amount of agreement, and suggests a lot of room for compromise, on this issue. It’s worth reading on to some of the study’s other findings:
• Teachers generally believe that they should be evaluated and observed, through a variety of methods, more frequently than they are now.
• Large majorities of teachers also favor tying tenure decisions to evaluations of teachers’ effectiveness and having tenure status reassessed at regular intervals.
Overall, according to the report, teachers see ongoing formative assessments, class participation, and performance on class assignments as much more important measures of student learning. At the same time, most teachers (85 percent) agree that their students’ growth over the course of the year should contribute significantly to evaluations of their own performance.
I find that 85% figure very encouraging. It seems to me that the ball has moved on teacher evaluations, from resisting evaluation to trying to make sure evaluations are done right. This – I hope – suggests that we’re increasingly in a place where teachers, administrators, parents and policymakers can work together to find better ways to evaluate both teacher performance and student learning. My guess is that testing will be part of the compromise, and so will tests that do a better job of measuring higher order reasoning skills.
Again, from the same Education Week article:
Teacher-effectiveness authority Charlotte Danielson added that “not a single one of the 21st-century skills can be assessed on a multiple-choice test.” She said that the appeal of standardized test scores is that they “give you a number” but that teaching is too complex to be captured in that way.
Danielson and other panelists suggested, however, that the Common Core State Standards Initiative, adopted by all but four states, may present an opportunity to develop more nuanced types of assessment.
Whether we’ll get good news from such assessments is another – really big – question. Here’s my prediction: if we really do start testing higher order reasoning skills, we’ll encounter some disappointing results and unpleasant surprises. If these cause all of us – teachers, parents, administrators, policymakers – to think about whether we are really preparing students to succeed in the twenty-first century, well, all to the good. But don’t expect it to be pretty.