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Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 03/25/2011

The girl who ran away to avoid a standardized test

[April 6 clarification: Below, I make a point about testing and Race to the Top. It is worth noting, though, as the Education Department wrote in a letter to The Post, that the No Child Left Behind law ushered in an era of high-stakes standardized testing for schools. President George. W. Bush signed that law in 2002. I should have included that context in this post. It remains true that President Obama’s Race to the Top encouraged states in 2009 and 2010 to adopt policies linking test scores to high-stakes personnel matters such as teacher evaluation. For more on this, read here.]

For several days there was an Amber alert out for a missing 13-year-old girl from Orange, Conn. Scores of police officers, emergency officials and volunteers scoured woods near her home to find her, and, mercifully, they did, unharmed. Here’s the headline from NBC Connecticut about the rescue: “Isabella Was Stressed About Tests.”

Isabella Oleschuck, a 7th grader at Amity Middle School, ran away from home last Sunday because, she told her parents, she was stressed out about taking the Connecticut Mastery Tests, NBC quoted her father, Roman Oleschuck as saying. She was found on Wednesday in a farm stand a few miles from her home.

Running away to avoid taking a standardized test may be an overreaction, but then again, it’s not nearly as extreme as what the school reform movement is foisting on kids today: making them take tests that have no real meaning, and then using the scores to grade them, their schools, and their teachers.

That, of course, has become the law of the land in many school districts, despite the protestations of experts on assessment who say standardized tests should not be used for high-stakes purposes. The Obama administration, through its Race to the Top competition, dangled federal dollars in front of state legislatures to persuade them to adopt such policies.

Now states are implementing teacher assessment systems that reward teachers whose students improve on standardized tests with extra cash.

A new study from Harvard University shows yet again the folly of policies associated with this kind of thinking. Roland G. Fryer, a professor in the Department of Economics, just published a study of more than 200 public schools in New York City that was designed to look at the impact of teacher incentives on student achievement.

Fryer wrote that he found no evidence at all that offering teachers financial incentives increases student performance, attendance, or graduation rates.

“If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools,” he wrote in the paper’s abstract.

This shouldn’t really be a surprise, given that it has long been known that teachers don’t go into the profession to make money; teaching is more of a calling, and, in any case, teachers, according to Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, earn only 60 percent of the salaries of other college graduates.

You can read more, here, about the study, which is the latest in a number of studies over the last year that have showed that linking teacher salaries to standardized tests is an invalid evaluation tool.

It’s past time school reformers starting addressing the actual evidence. The damage being done to the public school system in this country by an obsession with standardized tests is incalculable.

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By  |  12:46 PM ET, 03/25/2011

 
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