Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Some thoughts on merit pay for teachers, tied to test scores.

Teacher quality is vital, but I’m concerned about increases in high-stakes standardized testing (and imperfect tests) to evaluate teachers, influence compensation, etc. Testing and data mining is going to cost a lot of money. Who will pay? What will be the effect on students?

How will the state develop standardized tests for Art? History? Theater? Health? You know there are no state tests for those right now. How long is that going to take? How much more learning will students lose in order to participate in testing? These are just a few of my concerns.

Then I read Dana Goldstein's story in the Daily Beast about high-stakes testing and something called "Campbell’s Law" — the social-science maxim that holds that the reliability of a decision-making tool is inversely proportional to the importance of the decision being made. That is, the more a test score is worth, the more it’s worth cheating on the test. (The story was about allegations of high erasure rates -- cheating -- on supposedly-improved standardized tests in Washington, D.C.)

So that gives me even more worry about placing all this emphasis on state-developed tests.

Did I mention how pretty much every 9th grader in New Jersey failed the state's first Biology test? So now they're back at the drawing board trying to come up with a better test.

And, finally, Diane Ravitch tweeted today, "Imagine putting fate of students and teachers in hands of the testing agencies" like those described in the book, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley, an eye-opening (and frightening) book that I read last year. Another good point, Diane!

What does this mean for Ridgewood? The political pressure in Trenton is forcing a rush to policies for evaluating teacher quality, based on extremely flawed state tests. Eventually, the requirements will hit Ridgewood, we'll be forced to comply (rather than rely on our own education leaders to evaluate our teachers), it will cost a lot of money, it will suck even more time away from our administrators and teachers...like I said, I'm worried.


Anonymous said...

I don't think we do a good job of evaluating our teachers, but more standardized testing is not the answer. It's time for tenure to go. It had its purpose, but like most policies designed for noble purposes, it has run it's course and is way too often abused by incompetent teachers who really do nothing to deserve their generous pay and benefits while eager hard working new teachers fall victim to budget cuts.

Anonymous said...

Good points on the problems of using NJ tests to decide what teachers are "good" or "bad." Who's going to decide if the tests are any good? The Governor?

Research has shown that direct incentive pay does not work. We're not creating widgets -- these are children! Every teacher's classroom is a different mix of kids, from different backgrounds and different parent philosophies. If the test scores are the #1 thing teachers are judged on, then of course all they can do is focus on teaching to the test. They would be stupid not to!

There has to be a better way.

Anonymous said...

I think you are very right. There is a big rush to use standardized testing, and the tests are flawed.
But now is the time to work on improving those tests so they show more of what we want to know - "Are children learning what the curriculum says they are being taught?"
The cheating aspect has been deliberately underplayed by many advocating evaluating teachers with standardized testing. Human nature doesn't magically disappear at the school door.
Standardized testing can and should become PART of the evaluation process, but we must look at its flaws and limitations honestly.

Anonymous said...

Do you trust the principals of our schools? Do you trust their judgment and knowledge of their teaching staff?

Like every manager in the private sector, they should be free to hire and fire the personal who work under them. Are their politics involved, you bet. But so what, that's life. Teachers are not a special class that should be immune to judgment.

Get rid of tenure and put the responsibility for the performance of each school in the principals hands. If the school fails, we will know who to blame. Simple really.

Testing should be just one tool. Parents and students should evaluate teachers too. Just like any other field, put the customers first.

It is time to stop this silly game of protecting teachers with tenure. It is a dog eat dog world. Let teachers perform and deliver a quality product efficiently or bounce them out the door.

Anonymous said...

10:08, although I agree with your points regarding tenure, you are naive to think that our school principals deserve even more power than they already have as far as teacher evaluation is concerned. Over the years that my children have attended our public schools, I have seen cases of three different principals doing absolutely nothing to address three different teachers who lost control of themselves and physically assaulted three different young students. These teachers are still there and two of them have repeated their abusive behavior as far as I know.

I think our board of education should form a committee that welcomes this information and acts on it, even when the teacher is tenured, as two of these teachers are. The principals have consistently sided with the teachers, ignoring their actions and looking for ways to shift the blame and bury the abuse.

Obviously, the students on the receiving end, and also those who witness these events in school cannot be expected to learn and thrive in the school environment.