September 21, 2019

Testing the waters with Teachers

Tiffany Woods is a junior journalism major and staff writer for The Journal

A new Missouri initiative could result in teachers, not just students, being judged on the results of students’ standardized test scores.
Using students’ standardized test scores to rate and judge teachers is an over-simplified solution to a complex issue.  There is no denying our nation’s education system needs some reform.  But reducing a teacher’s proficiency or talent to one test administered yearly is not the answer.
In this system, already being used in some parts of the country and being used on a trial basis in 159 Missouri school districts, teachers with an overall rise in the test scores of their students are rewarded, while those who see minimal gains, or worse, could be at risk to lose their jobs.
In some school districts, the students’ scores even affect how teachers get paid.  Those with the highest scoring students are given more money.  There is, without a doubt, something a little uncomfortable about educators working on commission.  They are educating and developing the future of our country, not selling used cars.
Standardized testing has long been used to rank and analyze the students themselves.  This method, although based somewhere in reason, is not the best way to assess a student’s performance or intelligence.  As anyone who has been to public school knows, some students are just bad test-takers. The day of the all-important test, which comes just once a year, happens to be an off day for a student taking it, or some students are more adept at showing their skills in other ways.  Testing once a year by no means gives a complete picture of a student’s abilities or knowledge, but as long as our world runs on quick, easy data, that’s how it will be done.
Carrying out this flawed system to assess and rate teachers as well is a mistake.  As many kinks as there are in the system for testing students, there will be twice as many issues for using those results to “test” the teachers.   Every student has a unique learning style, and no matter how dedicated the teacher, addressing each child’s specific needs is becoming more and more difficult as class sizes continue to increase.  Teachers should not be punished one year if they happen to have an unusually high number of poor test-takers in their class.
Test scores alone do not show all a teacher can or does do for their students.  Standardized testing can’t recognize a teacher who spots signs of abuse and intervenes.  Standardized testing can’t show the extra hours a teacher clocks in giving extra attention to a struggling student who, despite extra help, still receives low test scores.  While these teachers may not be a dime a dozen, it’s a disservice to those that are out there to rank all teachers equally by standardized testing.
It is a very limiting way of assessing education, and many questions can be raised over how valuable of a teaching tool it is.  Are students who are being drilled and conditioned for just one generalized test a year truly getting an education?  If students are taught that these test scores matter more than anything else they do, which will surely happen if the teacher’s job is on the line, going to really value the education they receive, or just obsess over test numbers?  By the same token, if teacher’s jobs and even salaries are heavily dependent on how their students perform on their tests, will they really care about anything else they teach?
Students’ standardized test scores, particularly whether there is improvement or not, are a valuable tool to analyze a teacher’s performance.  But it should not be the only or even the most important tool.
They are most beneficial when used alongside students’ in-class performance, teacher observations and overall trends in the teacher’s style and results.  Reducing the education of the nation’s children, a critical part of our society,  to just a few numbers, doesn’t help anyone.

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