The inconsistency could not be more glaring. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking at the recent Democratic Convention, sought to rally the troops of teachers to the party cause by stating that the president, “believes teachers must be respected and paid like the professionals they are,” and that, “no teacher should have to teach to the test.” Say what?
It seems I wasn’t the only one rather puzzled by Duncan’s words. In an Education Week article Janet Payne, a teacher from Fredericksburg, Va. and a delegate to the convention is quoted as remarking, “I nearly came up out of my chair!” The article explains that the obvious discrepancy is found in the fact that the Obama administration has encouraged states to tie teacher evaluation in part to student achievement on tests, and steered $360 million to developing new assessments to go along with standards adopted by almost all states. It seems that we are most certainly urging our teachers to “teach to the test”. Could we have some clarity, Mr. Secretary?
To be fair, what Duncan probably meant was that teachers shouldn’t teach to just any test but only to his test. After all, the argument could be made, that there is nothing wrong with teaching to the test if it’s a really good test. If a test or any assessment is fashioned in a way that will accurately evaluate both teacher performance and student achievement, what’s not to like? So, maybe we can both respect the professionalism of teachers and create the tests to which they are to teach.
But the arguments don’t really hold water. Saying that one wishes to respect the teaching profession, while linking success at such to the results of standardized testing, amounts to talking out of both sides of one’s mouth. This is especially true when we correctly insist on the need to educate towards higher-order thinking skills and teach critical thinking strategies. Standardized testing can be one of the surest ways to quash the creative teaching methodologies teachers should employ in order to attain those worthwhile goals. It is extremely difficult to assess the success of such teaching by almost any testing, most certainly by the standardized versions, given the fact that tests look for specific answers while good teaching now focuses on the thinking process instead.
It is certainly my hope that the bulk of the above mentioned $360 million is geared towards solving this almost inherit inconsistency. Usually, when the government spends that much money all they get is a couple of toilets on the space shuttle. For the sake of our children, let us hope these dollars are spent more wisely.