Fairport-E.Rochester Post
  • BENJAMIN WACHS: These standard state tests are nothing but busywork

  • If I were a teacher I too would be furious that so much of my evaluation depended on a test that isn’t actually designed to give any useful information.

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  • The test scores released by New York would have been shocking if we weren’t so used to it by now. No one, but no one, is surprised that less than a third of Rochester’s 3rd-8th grade students score at or above proficiency in “English Language Arts” and Mathematics.
    But at least these poor, poor, kids will get the help they need thanks to the state’s testing system — right?
    Well … no, actually. The tests were all given in April. The school year ended in June. The test results were released in July.
    So all the decisions about who goes on to the next grade, who goes to summer school, and who gets held back, are made before the state test results are available. Whatever else they do, these tests don’t actually help a single student get better at reading, writing, or math.
    So what exactly is it they do?
    Well, starting this year they’re supposed to keep teachers accountable. Some 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will likely be based on how their students do on these standardized tests. That will at least make sure we have better teachers, right?
    Well … maybe it would if the data could be used to tell teachers how to improve their teaching. But the test results don’t actually include any such analysis — they just present scores, after the fact. What are teachers supposed to do with that? How is that supposed to help them improve?
    It can’t. In fact, it can’t even assess whether scores went up or down because of something the teacher was doing or because of other relevant factors — like a class full of kids for whom English isn’t a first language, or a class with a few particularly disruptive kids who take extra teacher time and attention, or a class with kids who are suffering from poor nutrition or emotional distress due to exposure to violence.
    Give a teacher a class with just a few more kids who act out repeatedly, and they’ll have to put extra work in just to do as well — but the tests can’t observe that.
    It’s equally likely that a mediocre teacher could benefit from a class that, through sheer coincidence, is made up of a disproportionate number of students with extra family support or participants in tutoring programs. Bad teachers could be sliding through because a few extra parents are doing their jobs this year.
    No two classes are the same — but the tests pretend every class is interchangeable. Unable to tell us anything about the challenges a teacher has faced, the tests can’t tell us whether the teacher handled it well or poorly — and therefore differentiate between good teachers and bad teachers.
    Page 2 of 2 - Unable to explain what the issues are with particular students, the tests blame the teachers for problems that may well get passed along through school, from year to year.
    It can only give us raw scores — the least useful kind of data in this context.
    If I were a teacher I too would be furious that so much of my evaluation depended on a test that isn’t actually designed to give any useful information. It would be like 20 percent of a pilot’s evaluation being based on how much turbulence there is on a flight — without taking the weather into account.
    They have every right to protest — because they’re right.
    But the real victims here are the kids.
    Every kid, in every district, deserves better than this farce. We owe them an education that does more than go through the motions. There are better ways to evaluate both students and teachers.
    After all, we’ve had the tests for years now — and the city schools are still failing. They haven’t told us anything we didn’t already know, and they haven’t helped.
    Tests can be part of the answer, but they need to give us useful information. New York’s tests, like many nationwide, are glorified busywork.
    Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and is the editor of Fiction365.com. Email him at Benjamin@Fiction365.com.

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