9485 in the collection
Testing isn't teaching
NOTE: This piece appeared in a point/counterpoint with USA Today editorial view supporting the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation.
by Kevin G. Welner
First do no harm. In their impatience with a teacher evaluation system that needs improvement, proponents of a system based on student test scores ignore this simple moral imperative.
No newspaper has done more to report on how test-driven policies can go wrong than USA TODAY, with its coverage of former Washington, D.C., chancellor Michelle Rhee and the nation's test-erasure scandals.
Yet the real scandals are ingrained in these test-based systems; they exist with or without fraud. We sell our children short when we send them to schools where testing supplants teaching, test-taking supplants learning, and test scores are the ultimate goal.
To understand how tests and learning become enemies, imagine the impact on teachers whose job security suddenly depends on the inappropriate application of a statistical model that almost all assessment experts warn cannot validly measure teachers' performance.
These teachers know that under such a system, they will rank lower if they spend time teaching ideas that, while important to students, aren't included on the crucial test. They will rank lower if they accept the challenge of teaching troubled children or working in a high-poverty area where students' academic performance is suppressed by fewer opportunities to learn outside school.
After 10 years experience with the No Child Left Behind law, researchers have repeatedly shown that attaching high stakes to test scores pushes engaging lessons aside in favor of mind-numbing test prep. Art, science and social studies are crowded out. Why teach a subject if it won't be tested? These are understandable responses to clear incentives, even if they undermine the real goals of schooling. And the higher the stakes placed on test results, the more the learning process is distorted. Teachers, their unions and parents are right to be concerned.
When we entrust our children to schools, we expect they'll be engaged and challenged. Yes, tests are an important part of that; they inform teachers about what students know.
But testing isn't teaching. Forcibly inserting tests into the heart of schooling harms learning and hurts children. It's time to end our testing fetish.
Kevin G. Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, is director of the National Education Policy Center.
Kevin G.. Welner
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