The Arbitrary Albatross: Standardized Testing and Teacher Evaluation

On Chicago's streets and Hollywood's silver screens, education reform has been cast as a false dilemma between students and teachers. Reputable actresses and liberal mayors have both fallen prey. At the center of this drama lie teacher evaluations. A linchpin of the debate, they weigh especially heavily around the necks of educators like me.

Think: Shaky Foundation

With the arrival of spring, testing season is now upon us: America's new national pastime. I believe student results from standardized tests should not be used to evaluate teachers because the data are imprecise and the effects are pernicious. Including such inaccurate measures is both unfair to teachers and detrimental to student learning.

As a large body of research suggests, standardized test data are imprecise for two main reasons. First, they do not account for individual and environmental factors affecting student performance, factors over which teachers have no control. (Think: commitment, social class, family.) Second, high-stakes, one-time tests increase the likelihood of random variation so that scores fluctuate in arbitrary ways not linked to teacher efficacy. (Think: sleep, allergies, the heartache of a recent breakup.)

High-stakes assessments are also ruinous to student learning. They encourage, at least, teaching to the test and, at most, outright cheating. This phenomenon is supported by Campbell's law, which states statistics are more likely to be corrupted when used in making decisions, which in turn corrupts the decision making process itself. (Think: presidential campaigns.)

As a teacher, if my livelihood is based on test results, then I will do everything possible to ensure high marks, including narrowing the curriculum and prepping fiercely for the test. The choice between an interesting project and a paycheck is no choice at all. These are amazing disincentives to student learning. Tying teachers' careers to standardized tests does not foster creative, passionate, skillful young adults. It does exactly the opposite.

[readon2 url="http://www.edutopia.org/blog/standardized-testing-and-teacher-evaluation-aaron-pribble"]Continue reading...[/readon2]

Ohio Teachers endorse Common Core Standards

From our mailbag

At its Spring Representative Assembly in Columbus, members of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest education employee union, voted to support careful implementation of the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics – but warned that outdated tests and lack of support for the standards could create major obstacles for success.

To address those issues, OEA members called for immediate suspension of outdated testing that does not align with the new Common Core State Standards and demanded comprehensive state and local support for the Common Core to bolster chances for successful implementation and challenging learning opportunities for students.

The moratorium on outdated high-stakes testing must begin now, said OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks. “It defies common sense for students, teachers, and schools to be held accountable for test scores based on standards that have been rejected by educators – and the State Board of Education. There is no benefit from teaching and testing young people on outdated standards.”

OEA warned that failure to provide professional development, technology for computer-based testing and time for collaborative planning “threaten successful implementation of the Common Core initiative.”

“The failure of policy makers to fund and support local implementation with the technology and ongoing communication with parents and communities will create unnecessary challenges for school districts and their employees,” said Frost-Brooks.

Common Core has great potential, and the issues OEA has identified are problems with implementation and support, not problems with the standards themselves, Frost-Brooks said.

“Teachers, parents and community leaders all helped create the Common Core, using research, best practices, and their hopes for the next generation,” said Frost-Brooks. “If properly implemented, Common Core learning strategies offer a dynamic foundation for lifelong learning, empowering teachers to use a wider range of strategies and their professional judgment and giving students more time to master essential knowledge and skills.”

That ought to embolden some of the tea party conspiracy theorists now popping up all over the place opposing Common Core.

Education News for 05-14-2013

State Education News

  • Schools, city look for millions in BWC rebates (Columbus Dispatch)
  • The city of Columbus could get at least $5.4 million and Columbus City Schools about $1.9 million under Gov. John Kasich’s proposal…Read more...

  • Plan would return $113M to Ohio schools, cities (Marion Star)
  • Ohio communities and schools would share almost $113 million in rebates from the state’s workers’ compensation fund should a proposal from Gov. John Kasich be approved…Read more...

  • Schools fared "better than normal" in special election, even though many had losses (Ohio Public Radio)
  • Voters across the state headed to the polls yesterday to make decisions about all kinds of levies – including almost 140 school issues…Read more...

Local Education News

  • No interim chief on the horizon for Columbus schools (Columbus Dispatch)
  • The Columbus Board of Education has no idea who will take over the $1.3 billion-a-year…Read more...

  • Fifth-graders have a blast while learning (Mansfield News Journal)
  • Fifth-graders at Hannah Crawford Elementary are learning math, language arts, science and social studies skills in a unique way…Read more...


  • Yet another tale of a looted charter school shows that better fiscal safeguards (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  • The Cuyahoga County prosecutor has it right, for the last six years, an in-house den of thieves has stolen nearly $2 million from a Cleveland charter school for teen dropouts…Read more...

10 reasons why VAM is harmful to students

[...]No one is asking how value-added assessments may affect the very students that this evaluation system is intended to help. By my count, there are at least ten separate ways in which value-added assessment either does not accurately measure the needs of a student or is actually harmful to a child’s education. Until these flaws are addressed, value-added assessment will be nothing more than a toy for politicians and headline writers, not a serious tool for improving learning.

1. The premise of value-added assessment is that standardized tests are an accurate and decisive measure of student learning. In fact, standardized testing is neither definitive nor especially reliable. City and state exams are snapshots, not in-depth diagnostic tools.

2. Value-added assessments will ultimately require all students to take standardized exams, whether or not such examinations are developmentally appropriate. Kindergarteners and first graders will be subjected to the same pressures of high-stakes testing as older children.

3. Value-added assessments will dramatically increase the number of standardized tests for each student. Children will need to take exams in subjects such art, music and physical education in order to evaluate the teachers of these subjects.

4. The most successful students will get less enrichment work and more test prep. It is actually more difficult to improve the scores of gifted students since they have already done so well on standardized exams.

5. Teachers will need to avoid necessary remediation in order to attain short-term gains in test scores. Most standardized English tests require students to demonstrate high-order thinking skills, yet a growing body of academic research indicates that many children—especially those growing up in poverty—require huge boosts of vocabulary to function well in school. Teachers may be forced to forego a vocabulary-rich curriculum that would have the most long-term benefits for their children. Instead, they will have to focus on the skills that might help students gain an extra point or two on this year’s tests.

[readon2 url="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/03/11/1193372/-Ten-Reasons-Why-Value-Added-Assessments-are-Harmful-to-a-Child-s-Education"]Continue reading...[/readon2]

Improving the Budget Bill Part I

Hb 59, the Governor's budget bill can be significantly improved during the legislative process. We're going to detail some of the ways improvements can be made.

Improvements can first start by correcting a major policy flaw inserted into HB555 at the last minute. HB 555 radically changed the method of calculating evaluations for about 1/3 of Ohio's teachers. If a teacher's schedule is comprised only of courses or subjects for which the value-added progress dimension is applicable - then only their value-add score can now be used as part of the 50% of an evaluation based on student growth. Gone is the ability to use multiple measures of student growth - i.e. Student Learning Objectives or SLO's.

Therefore we suggest the legislature correct this wrong-headed policy by repealing this provision of HB555.

Furthermore, greater evaluation fairness could be achieved by lowering the number of absences a student is allowed before their test scores can be excluded from a teacher's value-add score. Currently a student needs to be absent 60 times - or 1/3 of a school year. This is an absurd amount of schooling to miss and still have that student's score count towards the evaluation of his or her teacher. This absence exclusion should be lowered to a more reasonable 15 absences.

Value-add should not be used to punish teachers on evaluations, instead it should be just one component of a multiple measure framework, and a tool to help teachers improve student learning. HB555 moved us much further away from that goal.

Education News for 02-11-2013

State Education News

  • Attendance investigation to cite errors (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • Officials with the Cincinnati and Winton Woods school districts say they will be dinged for improper procedures and other errors, including missing documents and clerical issues …Read more...

  • GED test for high school equivalency degree will be more expensive and harder in 2014 (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  • Adults without high school diplomas will find it harder and more expensive to earn their equivalency degrees next year, another obstacle for people…Read more...

  • Auditor’s report on ‘scrubbing’ due today (Columbus Dispatch)
  • When state Auditor Dave Yost releases results today of his statewide investigation into whether schools “scrubbed” students from their books, the list of rule-breakers will be short…Read more...

  • New reading requirements could cost schools millions (Hamilton Journal-News)
  • It could potentially cost Miami Valley school districts millions of dollars annually to meet the requirements of the new state Third Grade Reading Guarantee…Read more...

  • Stakes high for new teacher evaluation system (Hamilton Journal-News)
  • School districts across Ohio are preparing to implement the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System next school year, which will rate teachers based on how well their students learn…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Project Excellence accepting nominations of outstanding Warren County teachers (Dayton Daily News)
  • The Area Progress Council’s Project Excellence program is seeking teacher nominations as it enters its 26th year of honoring public educators in Warren County…Read more...

  • Digital learning put on display (Marion Star)
  • Marion Harding High School students and teachers put digital learning on display Wednesday as part of the second national Digital Learning Day…Read more...

  • Local Catholic high schools see enrollment increases (Middletown Journal)
  • Two local Catholic high schools are bucking the trend of falling enrollment at schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati…Read more...

  • Schools, parents team up to fight pill abuse (Springfield News-Sun)
  • Nearly one in every five high school students in Clark County has taken medications not prescribed to them, a local health district survey found…Read more...

  • Area high school teachers tackle technology (Willoughby News Herald)
  • Technology evolves so quickly that it can be hard enough for the average consumer to keep up…Read more...


  • Uncertain schools (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • An irony confronting school officials across Ohio is that a Statehouse that requires them to project district budget plans five years into the future itself shuffles the deck once or twice every two years…Read more...

  • Board game (Toledo Blade)
  • The Toledo Board of Education faces a long, tough, urgent agenda that would tax the skills of a highly effective governing body…Read more...