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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Rosanne Wood
President and CEO
Using Students' Scores to Grade Teachers Is Fool's Errand

Bill Gates is finally admitting what people who actually work in schools have been saying for the past 10 years. Trying to hastily evaluate teachers by over-reliance on standardized test results is a fool’s errand.

Many of the most important things counselors, social workers and many teachers do (think art, music, drama, PE) for our kids cannot be measured by standardized tests.

Yet, current law requires that 50 percent of their evaluation, which is now tied to possible termination, should rely on them. Before you know it, PE teachers will be balking when an overweight child (who might not pass the physical fitness test) is put into their class, and AP Physics teachers will want to teach only those students who get top test scores.

Please, schools don’t need the added distraction of pitting teachers against each other (my test is harder than your test) or, more tragically, having them vie for the “best and brightest” students to help them keep their jobs.

Their job is to educate every kid who walks in the door, rich or poor, fat or skinny, gifted or not. You will hear that the “value-added” scores will take care of that, but with all the variability in teaching assignments, expense of scoring and lack of valid assessments, it’s just not going to happen.

When test scores become the most valued indicator of what makes a good school, then teachers and administrators will spend all of their time focusing on that. Our children are the real losers.

If you are the parent of a high-school student in Florida, you received a notice that looks something like this:
Upcoming testing schedule:

April 8: FCAT Math retakes

April 9-10: FCAT Reading retakes

April 15-16: FCAT 10th graders

April 22-23: FCAT 9th graders

April 29: U.S. history EOC (end-of-course exam)

May 1-2: PERT for Seniors

May 6: Biology EOC

May 13: Algebra EOC

May 20: Geometry EOC

This does not include required practice tests, make-up dates or Advanced Placement tests.

Think about the logistics for a minute. For each of these tests, students have to be pulled out of their classes and go to the media center or computer lab (and kick out the students who were in there learning) to take the tests.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The tests above cover only about 20 percent of the classes taught in a typical high school. This is why so many Florida teachers at all grade levels had to use scores of kids or subjects they didn’t teach  to have a test score assigned to them to meet the law.

As soon as all the EOCs are developed for the 400 high-school course offerings that aren’t included above, there will not be a moment during the last three months of school when some type of high stakes/high security test is being administered at your child’s school.

Not one of these tests is necessary for a student to graduate; they’re used only to satisfy this misguided law to tie teachers’ pay to standardized tests.

Ah, remember the “good old days” when teachers could give and grade their own final exams and students could see what they missed? Do the folks who are dreaming these laws up have any idea of the disruption and wasted learning time that results?

Almost every teacher I know wants to do a good job.

After much research, we know which teacher practices are the most effective. The challenge is to help weaker teachers learn to incorporate them.

This can come about only in a coaching and collaborative approach. We don’t need an out-of-control bulldozer to weed the garden. School districts in collaboration with teachers can do this. Here’s what I recommend we get started with:

• School boards, superintendents and principals: Roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to help the teachers who need it, get rid of the ones who can’t or don’t want to do a good job and give tons of support to the ones who are in there doing a good job every day.

• Teachers unions: Fight for teachers’ rights, but don’t protect the few “bad apples.” The majority of teachers will thank you.

• Parents: Get involved with your school and your child. Ask how you can help. Speak up if your child’s teacher is not doing a good job. Don’t forget to thank them when they do!

• Legislature: Quit thinking you know how to best evaluate teachers. You don’t. Back off.

• Citizens: Make funding our schools, pre-K-20, your top priority. Boost salaries and working conditions so principals can attract and hire the best qualified teachers in the country. Recognize that all schools are not created equal, and give the most support to schools and teachers who are serving our neediest families. Don’t blame them — help them.

Rosanne Wood is the president of Reform Works Inc. and a retired principal of SAIL High School in Tallahassee. Contact her at [email protected].

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Published Thursday, May 02, 2013