Streams

Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers Is Based on the Wrong Values

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 12:17 PM

I should be a cheerleader for the New York evaluation system for educators known as the Annual Professional Performance Review system, or A.P.P.R. I am the principal of a very successful high school where students get great test scores. I have a wonderfully supportive superintendent. My personal "score," in all probability, will be high.

The right question to ask, however, is not whether this evaluation system is good or bad for adults, but rather whether it is good or bad for students.

Numerical evaluations of educators, 40 percent of which is based on student test scores and achievement, will damage the relationship between teachers and students, a relationship at the heart of student success.

It will accelerate teaching to tests instead of teaching to the needs of kids.

It will put teachers in the terrible position of wondering whether the performance of their weakest students on a test might be a threat to their careers.

It will make principals hesitate to lead schools where test scores are low.

As a parent of a special education child who attends my school recently confided, “I worry that no one will want to teach a child like my son.”

Advocates of systems like the new evaluation system in New York, however, look to the business world for school improvement ideas. From this perspective, test scores are viewed as analogous to the way a business looks at profits.

These advocates believe that if teachers are in fear of losing their jobs, they will intensify their efforts to raise students’ scores. The focus is the score (the "profit"), not the child.

For these folks, test scores are the bottom line, and these "bottom line" reformers believe that what gets measured gets done.

Educators have a different belief. We believe that what is nurtured grows.

One need only to listen to New York City teachers talk about the pressures they are under to pass “credit recovery” students to understand that when the bottom line is a number (in that case, a four-year graduation rate), students’ long-term best interests are pushed aside.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cannot understand why teachers are not motivated to settle a contract by his offers of bonuses based on scores. In his world, everybody goes for the bucks.

Although every educator wants and deserves a good wage, no sane person goes into teaching to get rich. We go into teaching to make a difference in the lives of kids. That is what parents want. They do not want their child’s score to become part of a formula to determine someone’s bonus.

Of course test scores have their place. Test scores are one of many indicators of learning.

We know that when you teach to a test, however, you neglect the development of talents that cannot be measured on a Scantron sheet.

I have yet to meet a parent who said, "Please give my child more tests and longer tests to better evaluate their teachers." That is, nevertheless, what is happening in New York State now, and there is more to come.

Recently, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo designated himself the lobbyist for students, much to the surprise of parents and PTAs. One would think that a student lobbyist would listen to the principals and teachers who are with the students every day.

New York State has some of the finest schools in the nation from which he could seek advice. However, he has ignored the concerns that 1,278 (and still growing) principals of New York State have expressed in their letter about their serious misgivings about the Annual Professional Performance Review system.

He has ignored the concerns of the scholars who wrote the Board of Regents urging them to reconsider A.P.P.R.

He has ignored the advice of New York State’s Teachers of the Year, as expressed in a letter to the Board of Regents as well.

Instead, he has chosen to listen to the advice of Michelle Rhee and the hedge fund managers and charter advocates of Democrats for Educational Reform who wrote to him advising that he push harder and faster in a letter than can be found here.

I grew up in a different time. My father was a high school dropout, but the social support system called the G.I. Bill helped him get his GED and receive training for a job in electronic repair. We did not have much, but we had what we needed.

He had a union job, decent pay and a modest pension. That was before the world of the 1 percent.

The values of my father’s world were more like the values that still exist in schools. Perhaps the corporate world should consider adopting our values, instead of the other way around.

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