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Tests for Pupils, But the Grades Go to Teachers

Reader Comment: Talk about circular reasoning!! So kids take more tests to rate teachers who are already teaching to tests whose standards were lowered to make schools and politicians look good. When these new tests turn out not to be any good, even newer ones will be created to see how well teachers are now teaching to the tests that students take to see how teachers are teaching to the other tests. I'm getting dizzy.

Reader Comment: We are laying off five percent of the teachers but giving testing companies a quarter of a billion dollars. We are adding tests to an already stressed and over tested system that does not engage students in learning, only in test preparation. This defies logic. It is a kind of madness. That can be the only explanation.

Reader Comment: Think of the student population and what they have lost over the past 8 years as guinea pigs for the standardized testing mania.

Ohio Reader Comment: As a long time high school mathematics teacher, I plan to make a career move out of the classroom into either a highly paid administration slot or a lucrative position creating these standardized tests. Teaching has become a untenable job in America.

Reader Comment: This testing is occurring because the Race To The Top money said to do this. That IS the tail wagging the dog. Ohanian subComment: Which really means Bill Gates wagging the dog.

Maine Reader Comment: Too bad these same types of tests weren't administered to bankers before they destroyed the world economy!

Reader Comment: 1) Why would anyone go into teaching?
2) Why would anyone expect their child to be educated in such a school system.

Reader Comment: "Rigorous, comparable standards"? Surely they meant rigorous, comparable delusions. This is not scientific, it is scientistic. It is a game of pretend, like children playing house. Envy of the physical sciences once again brings us social "scientists" and bureaucratic hangers-on expressing their frustration, and lack of identifiable expertise, in the language of hokum. Our problem is, we have absolutely no idea how to measure effective teaching; instead of trying to understand what that implies, officials think up really cool sounding phrases and procedures that look like measurement and analysis, and await re-election or re-appointment. Let's give them all lab coats and clipboards and send them off to play somewhere else.

Reader Comment: Yes, let's rate all of society this way. If the consumer is unhappy the salesperson is dismissed. Similarly to the way we vote for school budgets we should also be able to decide funding for foreign invasions (used to be called wars), highway projects, social security, in fact ALL funding decisions. We laymen are such experts at administering education why can't the voters micromanage all gov't budgets.

Texas Reader Comment: . . . I work really hard at my job and I care deeply about student success. I accept responsibility for what is within my control, but I am not a miracle worker. I cannot teach content, critical thinking, problem solving, and socially acceptable behavior while simultaneously fixing society's problems with the economy, health care, bad parenting, unemployment, teen pregnancy, and crime. If teachers (and students!) are to be successful, we need to take a closer look at our nation

Maryland Reader Comment: Massive, cult-like worship of standardized testing is the worst idea to hit public education in a hundred years. . . .

Reader Comment: Only one sentence anyone needs to read in this article: "Proposals from companies were due May 9."

Quarter billion to the testing industry. . . .

Reader Comment: My husband became a mathemataics teacher after having had two other careers. Worst. Choice. Ever.

California Reader Comment: High school students taking up to eight tests in order to evaluate their teachers??? And what happens, if these test-weary students CHOOSE not to do well? Do the kids get fired?

Ohanian Comment: I wish Andy Borowitz and/or Michael Moore would get interested in the standardized testing frenzy. This article would give them enough material for 1,000,000 Tweets. Then they could move on to the movie.

NOTE: Shael Polakow-Suransky, chief academic officer, is an alumnus of the Broad Superintendents Academy Class of 2008. He is also listed on the Broad Superintendents Academy Fellows website as a guest speaker. Perdido Street School calls him a "data fetishist."

By Sharon Otterman

New York City education officials are developing more than a dozen new standardized tests, but in a sign of the times, their main purpose will be to grade teachers, not the students who take them.

Elementary school students would most likely take at least one or two additional tests every year, beginning in the third grade. High school students could take up to eight additional tests a year, and middle school students would also have extra tests. These would be in addition to the state English, math and Regents exams that students already take.

The exams, which would begin rolling out as early as next academic year, are being created as part of a statewide overhaul of how teachers are evaluated. Under a law passed last year that helped the state win $700 million in a federal grant competition, known as Race to the Top, each school district must find a way to evaluate teachers on a scale from "ineffective" to "highly effective," with teachers facing potential firing if they are rated ineffective for two years in a row.

Under the law, 40 percent of a teacher's grade will be based on standardized tests or other "rigorous, comparable" measures of student performance. Half of that should be based on state tests, and half on measures selected by local districts. The remaining 60 percent is to be based on more subjective measures, including principal observations.

Most districts will not create their own standardized tests, an expensive process that requires considerable expertise. The state does not require them to do so, instead permitting districts to set academic goals for teachers, broadly defined.

But New York City, which has made standardized tests a centerpiece of its school reform efforts, is pushing ahead. The city schools system is planning to use up to one-quarter of its $256 million share of the federal grant money for as many as 16 new standardized exams to cover science, math, social studies and English in the 3rd through 12th grades.

City officials want their tests to be different from the mostly multiple choice tests the state uses. A proposal given to testing companies for bids in April asks that the exams be based around tasks, like asking students to progress through a multistep math problem, modify a science experiment to get a different result, or write a persuasive essay. They should also reflect the more rigorous Common Core academic standards that New York and other states have adopted.

"How do you create an additional assessment that is actually going to strengthen instructional practice, rather than divert time away from instruction?" said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer. "That is what we set out to solve."

Despite the city's optimism, the prospect of more tests, particularly ones that will have a direct influence on teachers, is causing dismay among those who believe that students already spend too much time preparing for exams and not enough on the broader goals of education, like social and emotional development.

"We are not focusing on teaching and learning anymore; we are focusing on collecting data," said Lisa B. Donlan, a parent in Manhattan who has advocated against standardized testing.

Many tests, according to the latest thinking of the department, would be given in two parts -- a pre-test early in the year, and a post-test at the end, to gauge how much the student learned from a teacher. Proposals from companies were due May 9.

Daniel Koretz, a professor of education and a testing expert at Harvard University, expressed concern with the proposed design of the new tests. "When you give kids complicated tasks to do, performance tends to be quite inconsistent from one task to the next," Dr. Koretz said. That makes it hard to use the test to draw broader conclusions about how much a student is learning, unless the test is long enough to include many tasks, he said.

Other states, including Kentucky, tried similar tests, Dr. Koretz said, but abandoned them, partly because they could not compare results from year to year. Teachers were also having their students practice the particular skills they knew would be tested, meaning the exam was measuring test preparation, not necessarily broader learning, which became an issue in New York's state standardized tests.

"The evidence is strong that you can inflate scores on performance tasks," he said, urging that the city at least try out the tests for a year or two before they count for teachers.

The city has not worked out how it will measure student progress in subjects like art or physical education, a challenge the state is also facing. It has not yet asked the teachers' union to weigh in on what the tests will be, surprising union officials, because their consent is needed under the teacher evaluation law before the exams can be used.

"Before you start spending all this money on this, if you don't want to waste it, you have to come to an agreement with us," said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky said each test would most likely last a class period or two, and ideally be similar to a regular classroom assignment. Teachers, knowing that up to 20 percent of their annual rating would depend on how well their students do, might teach to these tests, but because they test higher-order thinking skills, that could actually strengthen instruction, he said.

If the union approves, and testing companies can act quickly, the city wants to introduce the tests in 100 schools next academic year, 500 the following year and almost all of city's nearly 1,700 schools by 2013-14. It has begun a pilot at 11 struggling schools already receiving federal assistance.

At Chelsea Career and Technical High School in Manhattan, where teachers tried out an algebra exam, Margaret Glendis, the math assistant principal, said she liked what she saw -- an hour-and-a-half test with only five multipart problems, each of which got harder in gradual steps.

Rather than testing content alone, Ms. Glendis said, "it's about the kid being brave enough to tackle something when they don't know where they are going to end up."

She did not tell students that the main reason for these tests was to grade the teachers, nor did teachers at Flushing High School in Queens, which tested four sample exams.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky encouraged transparency between teachers and students when they are administered for real. "I don't think that it should be a secret that part of how teachers are evaluated is how kids' learning goes in their class," he said.

— Sharon Otterman
New York Times





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