When you raise the issue of why and how too much testing may be a problem — particularly if there is an argument about using such tests to measure teacher effectiveness — some people ask, “What’s the problem? Life is full of tests.”
However, some argue that the current regimen of tests is inappropriate in scope and emphasis relative to other aspects of the learning experience. They may also argue that the one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating teachers of various subjects as measured in part by standardized test results in English and math is a poor indicator of effectiveness.
Let’s explore this last issue of evaluating art, music, math, science and other teachers a bit more. To do so, let’s create an analogy to another profession, perhaps doctors.
All doctors will be judged and allowed to retain their license based on the following:
We will assess eye doctors, podiatrists and pediatricians based on the results of data gleaned from a community’s ability to lose a specific amount of weight by a specific date on the calendar. You happen to be a pediatrician who has just begun your practice, and as such you work in a relatively poor community. Within the first few years of practice, your license is revoked due to “poor performance.” You never get to a point in your career where you might consider opening a practice in a more affluent community. This, despite the fact that you are well-respected and have made significant inroads into improving the health and wellbeing of community members in that less-than-wealthy neighborhood.
To further skew the validity of the measurement, the fact remains that the weight loss data was conducted in a poor neighborhood, among community members who may not have attended college and had less access to resources that might bolster their chances of success. Sure, some community members rose above their circumstances and met their weight loss goal, but they were the exception to the rule. Thus, the eye doctors, the podiatrists who also practiced in this community, as well as the pediatricians who were held to this one-size-fits-all standard suffered the personal and professional consequences of the poor performances of the patients within this area.
Think about a person you might respect, in any given profession, getting caught up in a system of evaluation that inappropriately labels him or her as ineffective. It could be a health care professional, a trusted accountant, or any other individual you depend on to support you and your family in any aspect of your life. Testing and measurement will always be a part of life and our livelihoods. Effectively rendered, we can use this valuable information to guide and shape improvement, both personal and professional. The present implementation of the system to test students and teachers is far from effective — and in fact is proving to be quite destructive.
David Gamberg is superintendent of the Southold and Greenport school districts. He lives in Cutchogue.