Testing punishes teachers

Liberal Words
. . . . How dare Rick Scott and Michelle Rhêe decide teachers should be judged based on student test scores. These two should wake up. Some of these kids live in hell; they spend their after-school hours avoiding drug dealers and crime, not on homework. They have parents who work endlessly at low-paying jobs just to survive. Some are homeless or hungry, some have raging attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, without medication because their parents can’t afford it.
. . . . These kids disrupt the learning environment of the class. These kids are screaming for attention, and most teachers bend over backwards to keep them safe. Some are exceptional-education kids struggling to fit in, keep up and survive in classrooms where teachers must be teaching a certain concept at a certain time or else they are called on it.
. . . . Gov. Rick Scott wants to encourage vouchers and charters. But voucher and charter schools throw these kids out the door at the first sign of trouble. Scott and Rhee ought to be looking at how to help these teachers help the kids, not punishing teachers for what happens outside of school. (Sandy Green: Punishing teachers for society, Daytona News-Journal, 1/17/2011)
Discussion
. . . . One might guess this letter writer is the parent of an exceptional child, and is well versed in the many difficulties they face in school and society. She highlights some of the personal and social baggage children carry into the schools from their families and the community at large. All teachers are well aware of these secondary difficulties, and most have personal experience with classroom disruptions.
. . . . She reaches too far when she implies this is sufficient to let regular classroom teachers off the hook entirely. Unless a teacher’s performance is measured through what their students learn, their primary job, neither teachers nor their schools are accountable for anything. This lack of accountability explains most of the problem with learning in the nation’s schools today.
. . . . Michelle Rhee’s strong point is her advocacy of school accountability through annual measurement (testing) of student learning with each teacher. This process has been adequately demonstrated in select school-wide projects. When integrated into multi-year school improvement programs, the systematic use of standardized, content area testing in the elementary and middle schools may generate broad school-level and system-wide support. The responsible use of tests is not the problem, but the solution to improving instruction in the schools over the long-haul.
Antidote
. . . . Very few teachers and few administrators are well grounded in testing, its versatility and its limitations. Historically classroom teachers have virtually no hands-on experience using test results to evaluate their own performance. Once they are involved in this process the mystery of testing disappears and the broad assortment of influences on learning, for better or worse, come clearly to light.
. . . . Responding at a joint meeting of Governor Scott and Michelle Rhee (Scott, ex-schools chief unveil plans, Daytona Beach News Journal, 1/7/2011) a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, said he hoped Scott would consider the expertise of Florida’s 170,000 teachers along with Rhee’s proposals for vouchers and merit pay plans. The expertise of Florida’s teachers is an appropriate starting point for improving Florida’s and the nation’s school.
. . . . It is unfortunate that much of Rhee’s focus in DC was interpreted as using tests to identify failing teachers, rather than as a tool to assess and improve instruction where it is needed. When teachers, as professionals, become active participants in using tests to improve instruction, then an adequate base of support will follow for holding the schools fully responsible for their performance.
. . . . As for vouchers and choice and competition and charter schools, these mindless, political, one-size-fits-all solutions only delay focusing attention where it should be, on each individual school’s responsibility to perform well within each school district. The federal pass-through bribes sucker the local school systems into putting emphasis where it is least effective, and prevent the local schools from doing what they know should be done, holding all schools and all teachers accountable for a fair return in exchange for their employment. To do otherwise is irresponsible.
. . . . Virtually all the folks who criticize the use of tests in the schools have no expertise in testing, and certainly no direct experience using tests to improve instruction in the schools.

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