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[Susan notes: NOTE: In the edited version that was published, the first three sentences of the 3rd paragraph were omitted and the last paragraph was omitted.

The writer nicely turns "the medical model" back on those who would apply it to education.


Published in Albuquerque Journal

To the editor

RE: "So Mr. Smith Passed; What About His Class?" Editorial

The editorial asks whether paying better money for better teachers is producing measurably better education for our students. This is a valid question and one that the Journal is right to ask, for our students are the bottom line. The key word here is "measurable", with the implication being that student test scores can accurately tell us who is a good teacher and who is not. Alas, they cannot and it would be a grave mistake to base teacher pay on student test performance.

Public educators have only limited control over how well their students test. A merit pay system based on test scores would be fair and just only if all students born were identical, with the same talents, abilities, motivations, and advantages in life. No Child Left Behind places unwarranted and godlike confidence in the power of standardized tests to accurately tell us what students really know and are able to do, how well teachers teach, and how well schools perform.

The law puts much emphasis on rigorous scientific research and scientifically based programs. Apparently its authors failed to do their own research about standardized tests. They were neither designed nor intended to be used to make high-stakes, punitive, life-altering decisions about children, teachers, and their schools. In reality, they are quite imperfect measures. Used properly they can be one useful albeit imperfect tool among many to assist teachers and schools in meeting student needs. The issue is not the use of standardized tests, it is the MISUSE of standardized tests. An analogy can be made with medications that a doctor prescribes for a patient. Used properly, the drug can help the patient. Used improperly, the drug can have disastrous consequences on the health of the patient.

Unfortunately, with NCLB we have a colossal misuse of standardized tests. Our little elementary children are being tested ad nauseam, beyond all common sense and reason. The law's narrow, high-stakes, one-size-fits-all mandates do not serve children well, for children's talents and abilities are incredibly diverse. We need to expand children’s opportunities for success, not narrow them. Standardized tests do not and cannot measure the qualities that matter most in life, such as character and determination and kindness. Nor do they measure creativity. They are imprecise measures of only a small fraction of the many gifts, talents, and "ways to be smart" that our children present to the world.

Merit pay for teachers based on student test scores? I hope not. Many social and cultural factors well beyond teachers' control have an enormous impact on those scores. Using test scores to arrive at judgments about students, teachers, and schools is very tricky business. When a new standardized test is introduced, it is quite typical for the scores to rise after the first year. This is not necessarily the result of better teaching or learning (it may or may not be). In fact, research shows that most of the increase can be attributed to teachers becoming more familiar with the test and learning to teach to the test.

Money, as important as it is, is not the primary reason teachers do what they do. Merit pay for teachers is not a new idea. It has been tried before, and to the best of my knowledge in researching it, not very successfully.

Tauna Rogers

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