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NCLB Outrages

Why not link teacher pay to test scores?

Valerie Strauss: My guest is Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools.

One reader comment: If these ideas are so wonderful, why aren't private schools using them already?

By Lisa Guisbond

Have your kids ever gotten an A for work that you, or they, didn't think was worthwhile? Something like that happened recently with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Education historian and New York University Professor Diane Ravitch gave him an A for effectiveness at getting buy-in for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores and a D- for pushing bad ideas. I would forgo the A and lower the grade to an F for pushing ideas that are destructive.

Why destructive? At first blush, rewarding teachers for higher student test scores seems reasonable to many people. The second and third blushes are the problem.

It's difficult to know whether Duncan is paying attention, but much has been written about the folly of payment for 'results' schemes in education and elsewhere.

Duke University Professor Helen Ladd summed up the research: "One theory of action seems to be that holding teachers more accountable for the gain in their students̢۪ test scores will induce them to become better teachers." Ladd says she's not aware of "any credible evidence" to support this theory.

But there is a wealth of evidence that No Child Left Behind's focus on test scores has narrowed what children learn by concentrating teachers' efforts on what they think will be on the test. This is nothing like the wide, rich and engaging curriculum that most parents want for their children and that keeps kids in school. Emphasizing test scores in teacher evaluations is likely to make more kids tune out or walk out.

Educators also say payment for test scores would erode the collegiality that helps them collaborate to improve learning. Teachers say that what kids achieve in fourth grade, for example, is based on the foundation built by first, second, and third grade teachers. Testing children at the beginning of one school year and again at the end of it to see how much they've learned sounds reasonable, but it's not a true indicator of any one teacher̢۪s skillfulness.

Meanwhile, there's a full team of other teachers whose subjects aren't the focus of the accountability system: art, music, gym, social studies, and science, even the lunch room and recess monitors. Some children wouldn't want to be in school if they didn't have art or music to look forward to. Confidence built up in those areas can also bolster achievement in the two subjects the politicians seems to care most about.

FairTest and the Forum on Educational Accountability have identified effective ways to improve learning without NCLB-style accountability's damaging effects. To learn more, see the I FEA web site.

— Lisa Guisbond
Washington Post: The Answer Sheet


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