Tying high-stakes tests to teachers is harmful
Here's good news: a superintendent willing to speak truth to power. My only quarrel is I would posit Make sure every family has a living wage as top priority in improving schools.
by Mark Henry
Later this year, the Texas Education Agency will begin piloting the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, a program tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, before launching it statewide in 2015. Use of such a system takes our state down a questionable path, as my experience has shown this to be ineffective, unnecessary and potentially harmful.
The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District chose to opt out of the state's pilot program because of our philosophical concerns with this approach.
It is easy to believe that there are simple answers to complex problems, but we all know that is not accurate. In any situation, the proposed solution can often provoke unintended consequences. That is the root of our concern.
Remember the failed teacher salary-supplement program of the 1980s, Career Ladder? It created unhealthy competition for limited dollars, produced resentment among teachers and discouraged cooperation.
The entire focus of the 83rd Legislature was to reduce the reliance and time spent on high-stakes, standardized tests. So why is the state now restoring the tests' skewed significance through teacher evaluation instruments?
This latest movement to "teacher-proof" education places additional fear, anxiety and pressure on professionals who are stressed enough already. I have seen this first-hand with principals and teachers who fret over the STAAR test, a once-per-year high-stakes assessment that measures how a child performed on one test on one day. Is that really learning? I don't think so. Testing is a key diagnostic tool, and results should be used to assess the progress of students so plans can be developed to address the gaps and deficiencies of each student.
Learning is not a business; it's a process. Use of a teacher evaluation system tied to standardized test scores alienates educators by trying to transform classrooms into cubicles. There are many more elements that go into teaching and learning than a high-stakes, pressurized test. Tying student test scores to a teacher's evaluation may improve test scores, but does it improve a child's educational outcome?
Throughout my three decade-plus career in public education, I have observed three reasons why schools fail:
1. Mismanagement by superintendents and school boards;
2. Incapable and ineffective principals; and
3. Communities that do not invest the necessary resources in an area of high poverty.
Notice that I did not mention teachers.
Ensuring that effective teaching and learning happens in our schools requires a four-fold approach, one that has nothing to do with high-stake testing:
1. Hire quality teachers. Administrators need to spend time on the front end of the employment process to hire the best and most qualified teaching professionals.
2. Provide training. Districts need to invest resources in preparing teachers to be successful in their jobs. Successful organizations invest a much higher percentage of their budgets in training their employees for success.
3. Have a rich and deep curriculum. There is not enough time to devote to a broad and cumbersome curriculum that doesn't benefit every learner. Let's develop a focused and challenging curriculum that allows students to learn to think critically. Let's establish what is most important and essential for 21st-century students to learn and provide opportunities for them to explore and pursue their interests.
4. Hire quality principals The biggest factor related to the success of a campus is finding a leader who is intelligent, industrious, innovative and passionate. A well-trained and intuitive principal will make sure that teachers who do not belong in a classroom will not be there long, thus solving the need for the overemphasis on high-stakes testing as a part of a teacher's evaluation.
Let's quit trying to "teacher-proof" education and stop the overreliance on data from one high-stakes test. The answers for improvement are recruiting, training and supporting our teaching professionals. Attention to these will deepen the effectiveness of what we do in the classroom and the biggest winners will be our children.
Henry is superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.
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