Sunday, March 4, 2012

Grading the Graders: More Meaningless Madness!

Have you been following the recent drive among pundits and pols to find a new use for those standardized tests they give to our kids?

Those costly tests, which also take much time away from learners and teachers, are largely useless in helping individual students. The sample of questions and student answers just don't tell teachers enough about what to do with the data to actually help the student.

This testing costs hundreds of millions of dollars every year, in addition to even more priceless lost learning time. The sizable profits made from the sales to over 16,000 school districts and state departments of education end up in the coffers of the testing moguls. Followup political payback donations go into the PAC pockets of the pols of both parties.

What we have here is a government-endorsed license to steal money from our schools. Worse, it robs teachers of critical classroom time-on-task for teaching and learning.

Could it be even worse, you ask? The answer is, "Yes!"

Let me explain.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote the following blog on student grading:


To grade or not to grade, that is the question!

What's the answer?

How did you feel the first time you had a grade attached to you? You know...a letter C, maybe with a + or a -. Or maybe a number, like 82 or 69?

Suppose you had a good grade way back when; did you deserve it? Or, how about a bad grade in 3rd grade? Was your performance really that bad? Well, the teacher must have thought so.

How did it affect your view of yourself? Were you the better or the worse because of it?


No way can we grade another human being this way. No simple number, no single letter and no standardized test score adequately describes human performance. We are far too complex.

So, if it doesn't make sense to label a student with a letter or a number or a profile of numbers, why would you consider grading a teacher using a student's test score? That's now what some districts are doing.

Yes, it can be helpful to teachers to have a checklist of needed skills, to assess their performance using video or visits from other experienced teachers. It makes no sense to include measures that are not their own.

Here's some recent history:

Since NCLB and other standardized tests were little help to individual learners, they were then used to grade our schools. If enough students in a school had low scores, the school was labeled "F" for failing.

Next an onslaught of fixers would come forward to fix the school. Never mind it rarely worked, by then many parents moved their children elsewhere. Charter schools emerged as an alternative. Most schools never improved.

Then emerged the idea of using the meaningless test scores to measure teachers. If we can measure a plant manager by the number of widgets he gets out the door each day, why not do the same with teachers? Teachers can be graded too, just like butter and milk.

Folks, our kids are not widgets. They bring a unique blend of talents and needs to each classroom. Regrettably, they are largely grouped together by how old they are, and not by what they need to know or the resources they must have.

A teacher may find 30 kids in her room at the end of the school year, completely different from the 30 she had the previous September. Many students can't or won't come to school on any given day, so the lesson given was a lesson lost. Some students have parents who care, and others who don't. Some work hard in school and see it as an opportunity to improve their lives; others clearly do not.

Each of these children yield a test score which can be accumulated to grade their teacher. Of course, we can also use it to grade the principals. Just because we can, should we?

Permit me to ask a simple, rhetorical question:

Is this use of student test scores a valid measure of a teacher's performance? Should we assign a grade to a teacher using those irrelevant scores?

These are very important questions and they need an answer.

Test-makers and pols and policy-moguls say yes.

What's YOUR answer?

Speak up! We need to be heard!

Twitter. Email. Facebook. Write your legislators. Contact President Obama. Letter your Editors.

Those many good teachers out there would be grateful for you spreading your answers for them.

1 comment:

Dick Velner said...

Hi Tom, good thoughts but are they new? I think you and I would have a great conversation. My struggle for the love of teaching is very frustrating. Glad to see you haven't given up.