On March 25 I wrote a piece about a 13-year-old girl who ran away from home for two days to avoid having to take a standardized test at school. It had the headline, “The girl who ran away to avoid a standardized test.”

The Education Department objected to this passage:

“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.”

The department believes I overlooked the role of President George W. Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

The department is correct: It was NCLB that ushered in an era of high-stakes standardized testing for schools. The item should have noted that.

However, it is also the case, as the item said, 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.

Race to the Top has therefore fueled a movement, which Obama supports, toward performance pay for teachers that includes using standardized test scores for a substantial part of a teacher’s evaluation. This practice makes the stakes of standardized tests even higher.

Any reader of my blog will know that I am opposed to using standardized tests to evaluate and pay teachers, not even as a small percentage of the whole assessment. Teachers should not be held responsible for the things that could affect a child’s performance on a test that occur outside the classroom. There are other, valid ways to evaluate teachers.

The department and I will continue to disagree about the whole concept of Race to the Top and the effect it has had on American schools. We’ll keep debating that in this space.


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