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These are hard questions.

There is an important distinction between measuring student skills and teaching success. The tests are not designed to evaluate the latter; instead, they evaluate a student's skills with respect to a known population, on the day of the test. Any use of the test to evaluate teaching performance is an abuse of the information provided by the test results.

I suggest that the citizens, and the leaders, begin with the proper question: "Do we have teaching success?"

I suggest that the answer requires proper tools for the evaluation of teaching success. We don't use those tools.

We do use the wrong tools, in the wrong way, particularly with a false reliance on standardized tests. Should you want to use the student's acquired skills as a portion of the "teaching success" question, you must have some way to evaluate whether, for each student, that the student has been provided the opportunity to learn, and whether that student has used that opportunity, and then, finally, what more should that individual student have learned. We don't do that.

Actually, we don't even attempt to evaluate teaching success. We don't do it because it is more difficult to do. We don't do it because the answers would lead to the conclusion that the public does not give enough attention and resources to education and to the public health and well being.

What are the consequences, then, from using the tests to evaluate teachers, principals, schools and our school system? We use test scores to drive management change. In all managed systems, the selection of the measuring tool drives a response directly related to the thing measured. And, like all typical management mistakes, misdirected pressure is causing unintended change.

Like, for example, forcing schools and teachers to spend ever increasing time "teaching the test". They narrow the depth of teaching units to closely match the tests. They spend time teaching test-taking skills instead of thinking skills. I suggest that if we ask the providers of education to improve test scores, they will -- with the same skill and energy that used to be applied to successful teaching. Sadly, the classroom resources which could be applied to maximizing successful teaching are applied to raising test scores.


Does this mean that by undoing the mis-placed emphasis on test scores, all else unchanged, we will maximize teaching success? Certainly not.

We, the public, do not provide adequate resources to our school systems. We have not for a long time. We have, by those actions, made a fateful management decision for which we reap the failures. The current "beneficiaries" of our management errors, those entering 1st grade 10 years ago, now cost us over 20 thousand dollars annually for each failure now in jail. Our city can not attract modern industries requiring an educated population; it finds it difficult to retain those already here.

Shamefully, but predictably, we have precisely what we managed for.


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