The Failure of “Reform” – Standardized Tests

The entire corporate “reform” argument hangs on the use of standardized tests. Reformers insist that these tests are absolutely critical in ensuring “accountability” throughout the teaching profession, and that pay, tenure protections, and even job security should be tied to the tests.

Now, I could tell you that researchers have known for years that bubble tests assess only a fraction of a student’s learning.

I could tell you that the error rates on these tests are so high that using them to evaluate teachers is functionally the same as rolling dice (even the reformers acknowledge this; they just don’t much seem to care if a teacher’s career is destroyed by accident).

I could tell you that the overwhelming consensus among researchers is that these tests should not be used for high-stakes decisions such as firing teachers and determining pay.

I could tell you that the tests themselves are secretive, graded by low-paid temporary workers, and have never been fully vetted.

I could tell you the testing industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and that lobbyists are crisscrossing the country, pushing their expanded use in statehouses everywhere.

But the best argument against using standardized tests to judge educators is very simple:

Standardized tests were never designed to evaluate teachers.

Yes, there are plenty of uses for these tests: program evaluation, curriculum design, research… and yes, they can even help a teacher or principal reflect on his practice. But they are very poor instruments when used in personnel decisions; there is really no debate about this.

And there is no good reason to try to sneak them into evaluation systems by basing only part of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores. As Rutgers education researcher Dr. Bruce Baker explains:

The reality of an evaluation that includes a single large, or even significant weight, placed on a single quantified factor is that that specific factor necessarily becomes the tipping point, or trigger mechanism. It may be 45% of the evaluation weight, but it becomes 100% of the decision, because it’s a fixed, clearly defined (though poorly estimated) metric.

Hammers are great for driving nails, but you don’t use them to drill holes, flip pancakes, or evaluate teachers. The corporate reformers need to stop insisting that we use the wrong tool for the wrong job.

Comments (2)

  1. deciminyan

    I think this message is finally starting to get through. I have spoken to several candidates for the legislature, and a good number of them (Democrats and Republicans) agree that basing teacher evaluation on standardized tests, even if weighted by 50% as proposed by Smarick, does not make sense. Keep speaking truth to power, JJ.

  2. Bertin Lefkovic

    …should be scrapped completely and replaced with a comprehensive observational methodologies that could effectively and efficiently evaluate and measure both student and teacher performance.

    I would be far more open to discussions about merit pay and tenure reform if that discussion also included an overhaul of the entire evaluation infrastructure and an expansion of tenure protections that would enable teachers to transfer and/or be transferred to any school in the state while retaining their tenure.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *