Opinion: Standardized tests not a fair assessment of teachers

 
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OPINION COLUMN BY CLARK MINDOCK — 

The Arizona State House of Representatives voted recently to give teachers who are deemed inadequate less time to prove their worth following a negative assessment of their abilities. The vote, one of many relatively recent changes in the state of Arizona to improve its general educational ranking in the world, misses a big aspect in the educational discourse. While there are bad teachers and bad teachers shouldn’t be perpetually in a classroom, funding issues and standardized tests are bigger issues that, qualitatively, make punishing teachers or threatening them silly.

School districts in Arizona were told they needed to determine a grading system for their teachers by this next school year. The districts are charged with ranking their teachers somewhere along the spectrum of “highly effective” to “ineffective.” If a school district evaluates a teacher to be ineffective or even “developing,” the school has to wait 45 days before it can issue a notice of intended termination. Before this more recent bill, teachers had twice as long to prove they shouldn’t be fired.

The problem isn’t so much that teachers can get fired easier though. Let’s face it, some teachers are bad. The problem is the most likely way in which school districts will be evaluating is in relation to an already bogus system. National education initiatives have shifted focus onto standardized testing models that do not really give a good feel for school effectiveness, and it’s against those test scores teachers are likely to be judged.

There are five major standardized tests used in U.S. schools. The companies that create those tests are faced with the interesting challenge of developing a way of evaluating students and (now) schools that have a huge variety of curriculums and cultural environments. Every student then is asked to take these tests made for a generalized population.

Students, as a study done by Michigan State University indicates, are likely to have not been exposed to up to 50 percent of the materials on the test (assuming the students were learning everything from their textbooks). Since the tests are so broad and made to look at a huge population, they aren’t able to focus on state student populations specifically. Each state has the prerogative to determine its specific education objectives and where to get the information for their curriculum.

In addition to this disparity, standardized tests are aimed at a very specific type of intelligence. Standardized tests, for instance, do not test intrapersonal abilities that can be very valuable in the real world.

This focus on standardized testing has developed teachers who teach for the test and are afraid of branching out into more cognitive and creative approaches to teaching their students. Teaching for the test isn’t teaching students how to work through problems, and pressuring teachers to do so for risk of losing their jobs won’t make better teachers.

There are better ways to tackle our educational crisis. A quick glance at the numbers lets you know Arizona has a significantly higher student population than the American average. Arizona also has fewer schools than the average U.S. state and funds education, in general, at a lower rate.

A raise in funding for schools would be a better bet to make than threatening teachers with lower job security. Big discrepancies exist between poor schools and rich schools in terms of quality.  Arizona schools would do better to focus on the funding they give to students and then rely less heavily on standardized testing as a rating system for our teachers and our students.

Of course, there is the issue of a national government push that gives value to standardized tests. Arizona, however, is no stranger to contradicting the national government’s word. If Arizona wants an educated populace, the state should go rogue on education, taking a cue from our perspective on immigration law. The state should put emphasis on quality and not on the vague results of standardized tests.

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