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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 02/08/2012

Education Department’s obsession with test scores deepens

Apparently it’s not enough for the Obama administration that standardized test scores are now used to evaluate students, schools, teachers and principals. In a new display of its obsession with test scores, the Education Department is embarking on a study to determine which parts of clinical teacher training lead to higher average test scores
Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting luncheon in Washington, last month. (Cliff Owen)
among the teachers’ students.

This is explained in a notice placed in the Federal Register:

“Teachers who have experienced certain types of clinical practice features and who have completed those features are hypothesized to produce higher average student test scores than teachers who have not done so. Using a randomized controlled trial, students will be randomly assigned to a pair of teachers in the same school and grade level, one of whom will have experienced the type of clinical practice of interest (‘treatment’) while the other will not have experienced the feature (‘control’). Average test scores of the two groups will then be compared.”

The Education Department’s new study takes as fact the notion that standardized test scores tell us something important about how well a teacher does his or her job. They don’t, assessment experts say (over and over), but why let the facts get in the way?

This might seem like officials are about to take the use of test scores to extremes, but, actually, we passed extreme some time ago.

Let’s consider Tennessee as an example. Last fall the state (as did many others) enacted a new way of evaluating teachers that is heavily based on standardized test scores of students. But here’s one of the many problems with a system that relies on test scores: What do you do about teachers in subjects without standardized tests?

One way out of this dilemma is as obvious as it is horrifying: Create standardized tests in every subject. If you think I’m kidding, think again. This is where districts around the country are going with teacher evaluation. See this post by a student in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, where last year 52 standardized assessments were field-tested on students as young as kindergarten. The student asked: Why do I have to take a standardized test in Yearbook? Why indeed.

But Tennessee has added a whole new level of creativity to solving this problem.

There aren’t any student test scores — yet — for over half of the state’s teachers, including those who teach kindergarten, first, second and third grades, and art and music. So teachers without a standardized test to call their own are being evaluated by the test scores of other teachers’ students in the school. As Mike Winerip of The New York Times recently wrote, amid a “bewildering” collection of rules on how teachers should be assessed, “math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.”

Really.

Things have gotten so out of hand that even Robert Scott, the Republican education commissioner of Texas who is not exactly the poster child for progressive education, recently called the nation’s testing obsession a “perversion” of a quality education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called for a broad-based curriculum and said he doesn’t want schools becoming obsessed with tests. But his policies can’t lead to any other behavior.

Meanwhile, back to that new Education Department study, interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before March 27.

Here’s my comment: Please stop wasting our time and money on nonsense.

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By  |  10:00 AM ET, 02/08/2012

 
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