Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Test, the Whole Test and Nothing But the Test

At some point, I could see teachers having to not only swear allegiance to the United States and the state in which they live, but taking an oath to uphold the testing mania that is now in full swing across the country. This would be the only legitimate way for tests to become an accepted part of the educational landscape in the form that the know-nothing reformers would like. But when you construct a system that relies on tests and ineffective evaluation measures, I suppose force is all you have to make the system work. Right Vladimir?

This past week in New Jersey, scores of teachers attended the state Board of Education meeting in Trenton with the express desire of bringing some sanity and professional judgement to the issue. Do I think this will happen? Not really, as long as the discussion begins and ends with testing and so-called objective measures of determining teacher effectiveness.

To be fair, I have been evaluated according to the Danielson rubric in my district, and my evaluations have reinforced what I, and my students over the years, have known all along; that I run my classroom according to accepted educational practice and that my students practice and learn the required academic skills. But only one-half of one of 22 components actually asks an administrator to evaluate my content area knowledge and most of the rubric focuses on what the teacher does, not what the students do. This is certainly one way to evaluate teachers, but it's not the most effective.

Now come the tests. Last week, students in 11th grade took the state's high school graduation test. In coming weeks, schools across the state will lose valuable instructional time administering elementary and middle school level tests that will eventually be used to evaluate those teachers. Then there's the pilot program for the PARCC tests, that will take more time and students out of the instructional day.

Next school year, the state's public schools will virtually shut down in March and May so that they can administer the full dosage of PARCC tests to students on computer hardware and software that must work 100% of the time during the tests. How likely is that to happen? And how likely is it that every teacher will be able to help students who push the wrong key or hit a fatal keyboard combination while legitimately trying to do their best? The tests will not be measuring teacher performance and will barely be measuring student knowledge. What they will be measuring is perseverance, survival, the district's wealth and ability to buy computers, and how many rooms the school has available for testing.

The coup de grace is that one of the architects of this fakery, Christopher Cerf, stepped down as Education Commissioner last week, but not before penning a love letter to the NJEA, accusing it of double-dealing, hypocrisy and ignorance. I've met Commissioner Cerf in a formal professional setting and I can tell you that he doesn't care a whit what the NJEA says. As long as the NJ state Board of Education supported him, that's all Cerf needed to legitimize his program. Perhaps his successor, David Hespe, will look at what's happening and actually listen to educators.

Until then, it's testing...1,2,3 for students and teachers. Productive school days will suffer as a result.

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