Toilets on the Shuttle

Shuttle taking off

Shuttle taking offThe 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.

4 Responses to Toilets on the Shuttle

  1. Test are needed as a part of accountability. We need to know if students are learning and inform our practice whenever they are not learning.
    Too much testing has turned teaching into test-prep, and also all the political pressures to show results leave teachers and principals fixated on the test.
    Good teaching does much more than high test results: knowledge, love of learning, curiosity, thinking and critical thinking skills, all of these and others are important for smart citizens and can be re result of good teaching.
    In addition, rote test preparation does nothing else that that, namely get you to pass the test. Learners with no concepts and little understanding might do better on the test but will still struggle because of lack of understanding and knowledge.
    I hope we can find balance in teaching and learning with assessment included but not as the only goal of teaching.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Your words certainly ring true and should be read carefully by all those seeking to equate good teaching to high standardized test scores. As I mentioned in my blog, this is most certainly true in an age when thinking and research skills become incresingly more important than any specific piece of information.

  2. Michelle Enser says:

    Good testing is created by actual living, breathing teachers! Teachers use tests, of course, to see what their students have ‘learned’. The current atmosphere is full of tests to which teachers have no idea about how the scores were determined. If a test is actually going to be used to shape instructional decisions, teachers must be able to do an item analysis – you know, we do make mistakes when we create tests and that would show us where we messed up.
    Good tests are NOT multiple guess tests!
    Finally, there are formative assessments, anecdotal records, and numerous other ways to ‘assess’ our students than through a high stakes multiple guess test!

  3. There was a time that teachers had the freedom to just teach. They used their creative juices to help us to take ownership of the subject matter. If only they had such freedom today. Classroom activities would be far more interesting which would help students focus more. I have observed teachers using scripted text to teach reading and language arts. The scripted programs teach to the test for the most part. The children hate them and it sets them up for failure. Give the students an excellent foundation, use all media necessary to touch the many ways that students learn and raise the bar to the point that the test is automatically covered. That is not impossible to do. Principals and Superintendents, just let us do it!

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