Opinion

Test results are not an accurate gauge of proficiency | My View

By JAMES U. BEHREND

The “No Child Left Behind” federal policy, established in 2001, demands a 100 percent proficiency rate for math and reading in order to receive federal education funds. It also mandates that teachers’ evaluation be based on their students’ scores in the statewide test.

One-hundred percent proficiency? Well, any competent millworker can produce 150 perfect 2x4s from various sizes and qualities of green logs, and reach a 100 percent proficiency rate. So can a 3-D printer. However, for a teacher to convert 150 highly individual freshmen, most operating on different academic levels, to 150 equally academically competent sophomores, would qualify as a miracle.

Teachers are not craftsmen who have control over shaping some inorganic object into perfect and measurable usefulness. Each child is an individual, has potential and limitations, a soul and essence, strong likes and dislikes, and some robust non-conformist genes, as any parent knows.And “No Child Left Behind” demands to convert such vibrant diversity to 100 percent academic uniformity?

Right now, the average graduation rate for students in all states of the U.S. is 80 percent. No state and no school in Washington has reached the “No Child Left Behind” 100 percent goal. Therefore, all U.S. schools are considered failing; however, states have been given waivers and continued receiving federal education funds.

Recently, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who himself never taught school, cancelled the waiver for Washington state schools because our legislators decided that teachers’ evaluations should not be tied to statewide test results.

At first glance, making teachers responsible for a student’s success seems rational: Students get tested, teachers should get tested and incompetent teachers should be weeded out. However, students’ tests and graduation rates are not really reliable measures of teachers’ competency, as statewide tests are no perfect measure for the students ability. Einstein and Edison can attest to that. Academic diversity and many other variables affect test results substantially.

This diversity is already noticeable in first grade. Children operate emotionally and academically on various levels. And as they advance through the school system, the differences grow larger. Once they reach high school, some ninth-graders will operate below ninth grade, some above. Some students will have IEPs (Individualized Education Program), some are ESL students, some fail but end up with a “P” (passing) grade. Some are frequently truant, some work too many hours. Quite a few students have cell phone addiction, and some students consider school a big waste of time and rarely do any assignment. Some are in “mainstreamed” classes, and experience the “Alice in the rabbit hole” shock.

Thus, such diversity of students’ abilities will skew the results of any “one size fits all” test. WASL proved that with devastating results, and some states have already withdrawn from Common Core tests.

Many lawmakers in Olympia and Washington, D.C. favor mandatory teacher evaluation based on statewide test results. The problem with such policy is that teachers get assessed not only for the 180 days they had the students but also for all the years the teachers did not have the students.To assess a teacher’s competency fairly, students must get tested at the beginning of the school year to establish their knowledge, and then again at the end of the school year. And even such procedure may not gauge the teacher’s proficiency fairly because of the diversity of the student body.Critics of public schools, of teachers and their unions, point toward private charter schools, such as the Nobel Network of Charter Schools in Chicago and its high graduation rate. However, they fail to disclose that Nobel’s zero-tolerance policy and its private-business status allows Nobel to fine and expel more than 10 times more students than Chicago Public Schools does.

And, while the suspension rate in public schools is 9 percent, Nobel averages 23 percent, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.Thus, the kids Nobel does not want end up in public schools and contribute to the low graduation rate critics blame teachers for and ask, “Why can’t they be like Nobel”?

— James U. Behrend owned a business in Seattle for 15 years and then taught history at North Kitsap High School. He is now retired but enjoys substituting at NKHS. He lives on Bainbridge Island.

 

 

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