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Why Standardized Tests Are Worthless for Evaluating Teachers and Students

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This is a wonderful article that appeared in Education Week, written by Margaret Pastor, a veteran educator in Maryland.

When I started reading, I recoiled at the thought of giving standardized tests to babies in kindergarten. Disgusting. But keep reading, as I did (if you are a subscriber).

Many of us in education have deep misgivings about the role standardized tests play in our schools. As a principal, I’ve had a front-row seat to incidents that illustrate why we should be seriously concerned. Let me tell you about one of them.

A few years ago, an assistant superintendent approached me about the performance of my kindergarten teachers. He had looked at the school’s scores from a commonly used standardized test and had identified an underperforming kindergarten teacher.

He pointed out that in one of my four kindergarten classes, the student scores were noticeably lower, while in another, the students were outperforming the other three classes. He recommended that I have the teacher whose class had scored much lower work directly with the teacher who seemed to know how to get higher scores from her students.

Seems reasonable, right? But here was the problem: The “underperforming” kindergarten teacher and the “high-performing” teacher were one and the same person.

I had just two kindergarten teachers. They each taught one morning and one afternoon class.

The idea that I should have the “high performing” teacher coach her lower-performing colleague was suddenly very concerning to me, not to mention impossible. It was clear to me that I couldn’t use standardized tests to distinguish high-performing from low-performing teachers. And this incident fed the doubts that I already harbored about using those same tests-which are meant to be “scientific”-to measure student learning.

I am married to a scientist. He runs tests on plant pathology, analyzes the results, draws conclusions, and uses the results to develop solutions to the problems he studies. I am in awe of the tidiness of the whole process.

I, on the other hand, am an educator. At best, every child is an experiment of one. We test the children’s learning with admittedly limited instruments-standardized tests-that were never designed to be used as a standalone analysis. A lot of classroom time is dedicated to preparing for these tests and giving them. Results are affected by dozens of variables that we can’t control: illness, hunger, sleep deprivation, unfamiliar forms of a test, limited command of English.

It gets better and better but I have quoted as much as I can.

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