Educators are criticizing President Obama's Race to the Top plan, one of the main tenets of which is to link teacher compensation to their students' test scores. While on the surface it seems like a good idea to have something more quantifiable to judge teachers' performance, something "real" that concerned parents can refer to instead of what can appear to be a vague "insiders club," but there are a big dangers in the concept -- especially if one approaches it with education as the priority and not budgets or spending. I thought we had learned from No Child Left Behind that too much focus on standardized tests is bad for education.
Here are snippets from several letters to the New York Times on this issue (click here to read full letters):
From a former teacher:
"For many years, there has been a terrible distortion of education’s promise, as everything besides reading, writing and math has increasingly been cut. The arts, imaginative endeavors, recess, inquiry, curriculum that integrates various domains: these are not luxuries but are integral to student identification with learning."
"... it is critical that the incentive not reward solely yearly results; the financial services industry debacle has taught us a hard lesson about short-term orientation and how it distorts behavior... propose that teachers be evaluated on three criteria: student data, principal evaluation and peer review, which would encourage an enduring teamwork culture within and across departments that is the hallmark of great schools."
"I left my job as a public school teacher shortly after the No Child Left Behind law was passed. My job went from teaching children to teaching test preparation in very little time. Many of our nation’s teachers have left their profession because the focus on testing leaves little room for passion, creativity or intellect."
"High test scores do not guarantee student learning. The evaluation of a student’s progress and a teacher’s abilities requires an act of human judgment (much like evaluating a work of art)."
"To “teach to the test” in mathematics by having students memorize facts and mnemonic devices takes away from the true value of learning mathematics and its ever-increasing importance in our technological society. To deny students the opportunity to be enriched with mathematical concepts prevents them from learning to appreciate the power and beauty of mathematics. In the long range, this could cause irreparable harm to our society!"
Are all these comments to be dismissed simply because they are from teachers, who you might cynically say don't want to be held accountable? Absolutely not. I understand the desire to quantify something which is hard to quantify. But this plan is not it, as NCLB was not it. We need some big thinking here, folks. Not a quick fix.
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