Teachers Boycott Standardized Exams
Parents, students, and more recently, educators, have been questioning the need for and reliability of standardized testing of students. New attention is being given to the argument that standardized testing causes a negative strain on classrooms and curriculums as teachers in Seattle recently decided to boycott standardized exams. The boycott doesn’t come as a reaction to necessarily what is best for the students, but because for the first time teachers will be evaluated in part against the results of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.
The New Debate Over Standardized Exams
For years parents, students, and some education enthusiasts have been decrying the use of standardized exams. Many of these people have argued that standardized exams drain the energy and attention from real learning opportunities and place the focus on teaching students to regurgitate information.
Ironically, the teachers in Seattle are in part making their argument against this particular standardized exam because they don’t know ahead of time which specific types of information will be covered – they don’t have the tools they feel they need to teach to the test. They don’t receive sample questions and the students complain that the information covered doesn’t mesh with what they’ve been learning in their classrooms. Therefore, the teachers don’t feel they can adequately teach their students to pass the MAP test, which in turn will lower their evaluation scores.
The argument by the teachers is about teaching to test, but the argument that we all should consider is whether or not standardized tests are effective measurements of real academic achievements. The premise for the Seattle teachers’ argument is rooted in the idea that teaching to the MAP test is not possible, therefore teacher evaluations are unfair. The premise should be, however, that standardized tests are inadequate measures of students’ abilities, the focus of the tests takes away from real learning opportunities, and teachers shouldn’t be measured primarily on the basis of test results.
Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be Measured Against Standardized Tests
Think of all the students, in all of the schools, in all of the communities across the country. While they might all fall under the title of public school, they can all vary to tremendous degrees. These variances can drastically affect student performances on standardized exams. Just consider a few of the factors that are largely beyond the control of the teachers that influence students’ abilities in schools.
School funding – Schools that can afford materials and resources to enhance learning might in turn produce students who score higher on standardized exams. Teacher turnover rates for struggling schools also negatively affects children because it removes consistency and commitment from their education.
Typical family structures – Family structures change from district to district. In those communities where many students live in fractured homes filled with turbulent family, financial, and emotional turmoil, the students are less able to make school the healthy focus of their lives. Students who have parents who are available both in time and ability to help with homework and facilitate other learning opportunities will have more of an edge when it comes to things like standardized tests.
Socioeconomic statuses – The socioeconomic status of the families within a school district also contributes to the success or failures of students. In poorer neighborhoods the struggles are compounded – schools don’t receive enough funding, families aren’t earning as much which causes strain on familial structures – the ripple effect eventually hits the students and can cause negative consequences for academics.
- Research has determined that three-fourths of schools that are ranked in the bottom 20% based on test scores wouldn’t be ranked as underachieving schools if differences in learning opportunities outside of the classroom walls could be included in the measurement of student success.
- Students from middle-income (or higher) homes tend to show gains in summer reading levels, while students from lower-income homes lose in reading skills over the summer.
Student demographics – It has been shown that teachers who have higher populations of ESL (non-native English speaking) students, students with learning disabilities, students with behavioral and emotional challenges, and students who come from struggling home environments can negatively impact a teacher’s rating if he/she is rated based on standardized tests.
Other Ways to Measure Teacher Performance
We need to get away from the idea that the performances of teachers can’t or shouldn’t be measured. They are charged with one of the most important jobs in society – educating children. If we don’t attempt to measure their effectiveness, we can’t determine how to improve education. Measuring teachers’ contributions to classrooms should include various tools implemented over several years.
Skills and Knowledge – Teachers who build their skills, keep current with improvements in resources, and seek new or improved skills should be considered for financial reimbursements and pay raises. This is a common business practice for employers who seek such things as additional certifications.
Academic Scores – There is a place for measuring the effectiveness of teachers by looking at academic scores. This, however, can be done on smaller scales without standardized testing. Classroom portfolios reviewed by qualified personnel can serve as adequate measures of academic progress, and it takes into consideration all of those factors that negatively affect teachers when standardized test scores are used.
School Wide Assessments – Schools in individual districts can be assessed for effectiveness, and teachers must work together in order to use the resources in the district to effectively teach students. This would help reduce penalizing teachers who are compared against teachers from other districts.
Student and Family Feedback – Students and their families should have some sort of input in the assessments of teachers. These teachers are serving enormous roles in the lives of families, and forming relationships that are mutually respectful and open fosters benefits for everyone.
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