An article written by Bill Turque appearing in today’s Washington Post reveals what can only be considered a controversial move by Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s goal to expand the use of standardized testing to include regular testing of all students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. According to Turque, the purpose of the testing would be “to measure academic progress and the effectiveness of teachers.”
While Rhee continues to support the use of standardized tests as tools to inform data-driven decision making, Turque, nevertheless, also presents parent and community concerns about the effect that testing has on students and teachers.
And, yes, while an assessment is a tool that should serve to gauge the quality of instruction and learning, we have seen the opposite in many cases since widespread testing mandates began with NCLB. Study after study shows that students with effective teachers make the most progress, no matter what methods those teachers use.
Think about the best teachers you had in school. Now think about the qualities that made them that way. I’ll bet each of the teachers you chose had qualities in common. I’ll also bet they did quite a few things differently as well. Teachers are not created with cookie cutters. We cannot expect all of our seventh grade language arts teachers to walk into a classroom, open a textbook, and read the same scripted lesson to students in the same manner at the same time every day.
Guess what? That’s what’s happening in many of our schools. How many of the teachers you thought about earlier — those really good teachers who made an impact on you — would have been able to do that if their administrator evaluated them based on whether they followed a scripted lesson plan created by a textbook company? How many of them would have chosen the profession of teaching?
Last month, Peter Smagorinsky had a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the nature of teaching and how problematic it is when we begin to consider linking teacher pay to student test scores, as well as other important issues being discussed in education. Indeed, we have a sad state of affairs when teachers who are passionate and successful in the profession advise their own children against entering it because the culture of accountability has created an environment where the very elements that drive their passion and success are sapped by standardization.
Interestingly, Turque also cites Erin McGoldrick, Rhee’s “chief of data and accountability,” who argues that “assessments … can only improve teaching.” If there is no room within the box, the passion and success of our brightest and most creative teachers will never see the light of day.
McGoldrick’s position is no surprise given her background in both the charter school movement as well as in research design and analysis. Before moving to Washington D.C. in tandem with Rhee, they served together on the school board for the St. Hope Public Schools, a charter school system in Sacramento, California.
According to the St. Hope web site, McGoldrick served as the Director of Data Management and Analysis for the California Charter Schools Association. While she held a variety of positions in K-12 research, McGoldrick has never been a teacher in a classroom, so her comment in the Turque article about assessments improving teaching is interesting, particularly given her background in research. I wonder if she’s spoken with Diane Ravitch lately. Maybe she should.
Further, before becoming involved with Washington D.C.’s schools and California’s Charter schools, McGoldrick did research analysis for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a master’s degree in public policy from UCLA and a bachelor’s degree in classics from Notre Dame. Hmm.