Testing conflicts with educational reform

Remember STAR testing? If you’re unfamiliar with the subject, just know that there is no true incentive for a student to perform well on the exam. When I was in high school, fellow students would bubble in letters that would coincide to make pictures of smiley faces, drug references, et cetera. One of the purposes of this type of test is to determine how statistically well the students are functioning in various subjects, such as math, English and science. But the larger goal is to try and effectively judge if the teachers are accurately edifying young minds in accordance with selective curriculum. One may ask, “is this an appropriate way to verify a teacher’s skill in the classroom?” Hell no. With students differing in personal aptitude across the board and tests ranging in difficulty, it is hard to say if tests are an accurate measure of a teacher’s real ability. Students are gifted in various areas and the learning process is complicated; basing their evaluations primarily on test scores comes with many consequences.
Put yourself in a situation where you have been frequently attending an unenjoyable class. This lack of interest is not based on the teacher, but solely revolves around the content of the class. Let’s say you find ecology unfulfilling and dull, despite how hard the teacher works to apply the subject matter to real-life situations using fun activities and examples. The effect of being so disinterested with the gist of your ecology class is less studying, a lessened understanding of the material, and ultimately poor performance in the classroom. This is hardly uncommon. Some students simply operate better in different areas of learning. Someone may be better at a certain trade skill, but because of the stress placed on scoring well on these standardized tests, his talents go unnoticed and are refocused on subjects he may not be good at or interested in. The point here is that test scores are going to fluctuate year by year, no matter how hard we shoot for the bell curve. One year a class full of students may perform better on the same exam that is given the next year, when a large majority ends up not passing. So is it fair to put an educator’s profession on the chopping block because of unpredictable circumstance? Hardly.
Do you recall President Obama’s Race to the Top program? There was an emphasis on improving the classroom, which, aside from handing out grants, involved a new evaluation of our teachers. This had received several unfavorable reviews and responses from many California unions, such as the California Teacher’s Union. The program was a billion dollar investment that was said to prepare students for a new age of competitive education. There was plenty to boast about in the plan for better schooling, but why were the educators so worried? This is because of the previously mentioned test score debate, in which the teachers felt it was unfair to be judged based on student test scores. There has even been a legal quarrel between the United Teachers Los Angeles union and the Los Angeles Unified School District as a result of the outrage. The forty-five thousand person union may have some good reasons for their disgruntlement, seeing as this ongoing battle has also spawned strikes, including one in Chicago recently. Yet this hasn’t stopped Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from believing that teachers should be held accountable for the performance of their students, as he said at September’s Conference of Mayors. Of course, I do not entirely disagree. I do think that “student growth over time [should be used] as a measurement in teachers,” as Villaraigosa said. The only problem is that student growth cannot purely be determined by a few tests, even though it is one factor.
A long-dormant bill, AB 5, has been used as a rope in the tug-of-war game persisting between teachers and our legislative system. What does the bill advocate and why do teacher associations have such animosity towards it? The Los Angeles Times sums up the bill as making several changes “to teacher evaluations, including requiring more frequent performance reviews, more training for evaluators and the use of multiple measures of student academic progress – which could include test scores but would not require them, as current state law does.” The bill has been thrown around for years, incurring complaints from teachers who support a collectively bargained evaluation system rather than the current one and criticism, including that of Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy, who says that the district is within its right to impose regulations without negotiation. According to its detractors, the bill will weaken the progression that the educational system has been making. I certainly disagree. If the bill was implemented, the evaluation system could be based on the following criteria: “student achievement [will] account for 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation – half based on standardized test scores and half on some other measure of student achievement. Another 40 percent will be based on observations of teacher practice, 10 percent on parent or peer feedback and 5 percent on school performance or student feedback,” states the Norwalk Citizen. AB 5 was unfortunately abandoned in early September but is not long forgotten and is sure to be seen again.
This grueling process of determining how our educators should be evaluated has been deliberated upon for much too long. The debate is infringing on the possibility for a better student future. Why base all decisions mostly on student test scores? I say we let the students voice their own opinions by having a greater influence on teacher evaluations. Student test scores should not contribute momentously to teacher assessment. Instead, there should be more of a focus on observational feedback. The lowest scoring students should be put under evaluations as well, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t, modeling a classroom experience on the method of learning that most benefits them. Isn’t this supposed to be the point anyhow? Testing just isn’t sufficient enough to judge an overall learning experience; it only trifles with specifics, which is a substantial weakness. It’s time for a change in our academic goals.

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