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NCLB Outrages

Times is wrong about using tests to evaluate teachers

By Jim Wright

Your recent editorial, "Allow use of test scores to evaluate teachers" (Aug. 16), cries out for an immediate and critical response.

Granted, there are certainly at least a few teachers out there who should not be teaching. Using a similar line of reasoning, however, I might argue that the evaluations and/or salaries of newspaper editorial writers should be statistically correlated with the number of readers whose opinions are somehow influenced by reading those editorials.

The real question is whether or not state standardized test scores would be an accurate, fair, reasonable, or even useful criterion to measure teacher effectiveness in the classroom.

A basic principle in any investigation holds that the more precisely we attempt to measure something, the less certain we can be of the accuracy of our results. For example: is an electron a wave or a particle?

(The answers: Yes/No/Either/Neither/Both/Impossible to Determine with Existing Technology.) Can we really be sure that we are testing a student's understanding when it comes to any question of reasonable complexity or depth?

Can we accurately "quantify" any student's understanding with a contrived, standardized, multiple-choice examination? Is this really the best way to motivate students to learn to appreciate and solve complex, difficult, and multifaceted problems?

Mathematical Chaos Theory holds that small variations in initial conditions can lead to widely discrepant outcomes. Much as it would be nice to think that our students all think about problems in some generic, standardized fashion, the truth is that they are all uniquely gifted individuals with their own "chaotic" stories to work out and tell for themselves.

We disrespect students if we do not offer them a way to be themselves and accomplish positive outcomes in the classroom on their own terms.

Eight years of No Child Left Behind has given us the current, untenable situation in which many children are being left behind daily in any meaningful educational context. Similarly, many publicly funded school districts will sooner-or-later be left behind, funding-wise.

Enough is enough. It's time to pull the curtains on "objectifying" educational outcomes. Instead, we should be focusing on personalizing and maximizing positive outcomes for each individual student.

That's a much more difficult task, but in the long run, a much more appropriate outcome, for everyone.

— Jim Wright
Contra Costa Times
2009-09-05


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