One of the biggest arguments in education right now is the role of testing. More specifically the scores yielded from the standardized tests and how those scores should be viewed and used. Within this argument, there are two clearly defined sides. The side that thinks scores should be used to evaluate teachers and schools and the side that doesn’t.
Indiana State Superintendent, Jennifer McCormick, is leading the charge to decouple test scores and evaluations. She, like many other people in the education community, believes the scores should be used to measure mastery and inform the teaching of concepts and nothing more. Some also believe that using standardized testing as a primary metric is unfair to teachers in low-income and impoverished areas as there are significantly more barriers and obstacles to education in these areas.
But opponents of this logic often claim that there is no other good way to evaluate teachers or schools, and question how teachers and schools can be held accountable absent a common, or standardized test.
The answer undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle.
As an inner-city teacher, I can tell you that the test scores of students are more than a reflection of the pedagogy of their teachers. We know that students in some schools and areas have a leg up as soon as they step foot in the classroom. Whether that leg up is high-quality preschool or other socio-economic advantages, it makes the job of teaching them different than teaching students without those advantages. A student’s test scores represent the summative and cumulative experiences of their lives and educational background not just what happened with the four walls of their English class that year. Thus no standardized test could ever serve as the sole or even primary metric for the quality of their teachers.
If you want to test this concept, simply switch the teachers from an affluent school with the teachers from an inner-city school and see if the scores switch as well. They won’t.
But just because scores shouldn’t be the sole metric of teacher or school quality, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t matter at all either. That notion is almost equally asinine.
We the taxpayers spend a bunch of money on education, and at the end of the day, we deserve to know if the students at the school down the street have mastered the order of operations regardless of the obstacles they may face. Additionally, test-scores can give us valuable insight into growth which is something we should hold all schools accountable. While it might not be fair to punish an under-resourced school of low-income students for not having the same scores as an affluent one, it is still important to know where those students stand. Moreover, it does make sense to compare schools in similar areas with similar students to each other because when all the controls and variables are similar then standardized testing can be useful.
If what we are trying to measure is pedagogy, then we should probably start looking towards a system in which teachers are observed by qualified and experienced peers that can properly evaluate the strategies and techniques that are being used by the teachers. Such a system would be costly and far more complex. It could also potentially open the door to bias and favoritism.
At the end of the day, there is no perfect system for teacher evaluations. Perhaps every teaching job is simply too different to use any one metric. But the bottom line will always matter meaning there is room to use test scores, at least in some capacity.