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School Chief Criticizes Standardized Tests

Kindergarten teacher reading to children.My son will be starting kindergarten in the fall and I’m pretty excited about it. We chose our neighborhood based on the reputation of the elementary school and I’m certain that my son will thrive there. I recently went to an open house for parents and I loved the approach the principal takes to educating; she comes from a special education background and brings a whole-child sensibility to how she runs her school. I think the whole experience will be wonderful for my son.

The one thing that keeps nagging at me is that entry into public school means the beginning of the countdown to the regime of standardized tests that begin in 3rd grade. As most of us know, schools are required to test kids in math and reading in elementary school and the tests are a very big deal. The results of the tests can affect school funding, teacher evaluations, and whether or not a school is considered successful or not.

What the tests don’t do is inform how individual children are educated. Kids sit for days each year after weeks of prep and take a test that is really about their teacher or their school. It’s not about them.  I flatly hate the whole idea.

As it turns out, Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr agrees with me that the tests are an undue burden on schools and students and don’t do what they’re supposed to do. Starr heads up the largest school district in Maryland (17th largest in the nation), a school district that is considered excellent by all measures. It’s also the district where I live so Starr’s opinion matter s a whole lot to me.

Speaking on a Washington Post Live panel back in December, Starr commented that US schools are trying to do too many things at once:

* Implement Race to the Top reforms that states promised to put in place in exchange for federal education dollars that the Obama administration gave out through a contest. Those reforms include expanding charter schools and evaluating teachers by using students standardized test scores to determine a teacher’s “value.”

* Implement waivers that the Obama administration gave to those states that agreed to implement Education Department-supported reforms in exchange for an exemption from onerous No Child Left Behind mandates.

* Implement Common Core State Standards and create new standardized assessments that align with them.

By any measure that’s a lot for schools to be scrambling to do. There’s the risk that all the paperwork and data crunching attached to school reform will get int he way f teachers being able to focus on classroom instruction. And for teachers, knowing that student’s test scores could put their job in jeopardy, adds a layer of pressure to rise tot he testing occasion, even if it isn’t the best thing for students.

Starr doesn’t feel like test scores are a valid measure of teacher performance at all and Montgomery County doesn’t evaluate teachers that way:

He also said it was wrong to evaluate teachers based on the scores their students get on standardized tests because the method that is is based on “bad science.” He noted that he had previously worked in the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school system, where was director of school performance and accountability. It became clear, he said, that the formulas used to assess a teacher’s value with the use of test scores had huge margins of error, as much as 55 points. While he said he is sure that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have the best of intentions, they are wrong to embrace this assessment method. In Montgomery County, standardized test scores have no percentage weight in teacher evaluations.

So. If the head of the largest school district in the state with the best schools in the nation according to Education Week thinks standardized tests aren’t an effective tool, maybe we need to listen to him.

What do you think? Do standardized tests make schools and teachers better?

Photo credit: photo stock

Read more from Rebekah at Mom-in-a-Million The Broad Side. Follow Rebekah on Facebook and Twitter too!

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