Time Spent Testing is Time Not Spent Learning
Respected education and poverty journalist Dana Goldstein recently put up some thoughts in response to a glowing report on Harrison District 2 in Colorado. In particular, the report talks up the student-outcomes-only approach to teacher compensation. That the report was written by the superintendent who designed the system and has been extolling its virtues across the country might raise some questions about its objectivity, and Goldstein offers some helpful context from her own time spent reporting on the district.
For one, she found that "the typical Harrison child will experience nine to 10 weeks per school year in which she is sitting for state or district-created testing in some or all of her classes. (If individual Harrison teachers are creating their own classroom assessments—a hallmark of effective teaching - this would be in addition to all the state-mandated and district-mandated testing.)" That's a lot of time spent testing, and therefore time not spent learning.
Many of these tests are experimental, created by the district so that it could test every teacher in every subject in every grade level. Some of the early attempts were pretty ridiculous; creating a standardized test for physical education will always be a challenge. Assuming that Harrison teachers are mostly like other teachers across the country, most of them don't accept the validity of standardized tests as a true measure of their quality.
The result is a teaching corps that, according to Goldstein, is "anxious and demoralized." There are probably some self-described education reformers who believe that most or all teachers should be anxious; that's what happens when one assumes we have a bunch of freeloaders who don't care about the quality of their work. On the other hand, I think we can all agree that teachers shouldn't feel demoralized.
Too often, conversations about treating teachers "fairly" by linking pay or retention to test scores (that were never meant for teacher evaluation) are really about the suspicion, fueled by documentaries like Waiting for "Superman", that huge numbers of teachers need to be intimidated into doing their jobs. While we should talk about how to remove barriers to removing unimprovably ineffective teachers, there aren't nearly as many of those as the "reformers" seem to think. At some point, we have to ask what damage the hunt for "bad teachers" is doing to our students.