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A Long Held Truth Turned on Its Head

By August 25, 2013December 30th, 2021No Comments

There has been a sea change within the education profession over the last four decades. The change is in the loss of the belief that evaluating the work of schools, their teachers, and their administrators solely on the basis of students’ scores on standardized tests is not valid.

Prior to the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, it was taken as gospel truth that standardized test scores when used in isolation are not a valid measure of students’ academic learning or of schools’ efficacy in producing student learning.

One of the standardized test scores most widely used by the public for comparing students, schools, and teachers is the College Board’s SAT. However, even this widely used measure includes the following qualification:

“Educators, the media and others should not rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states solely on aggregate scores derived from tests that are intended primarily as a measure of individual students.

Standardized tests in the aggregate are simply never appropriate to rate, rank or to compare teachers, schools, districts, states, or nations.

“[U]sers are cautioned not to “overuse” test results, by interpreting scores either too broadly or too precisely, and are encouraged to remember that test results are rarely absolute measurements…

“Institutions, agencies, and organizations should use College Board test scores and related data with discretion and for purposes that are appropriate and in ways that have been validated and in ways that are consistent with the applicable guidelines …” (Guidelines for the Uses of College Board Test Scores and Related Data )

In today’s world, the accountability movement—driven primarily by non-educators has succeeded in a new “conventional wisdom”. Now, the acceptance of standardized test scores as valid measures of school and teacher performance is nearly ubiquitous.
Despite all the protests of the psychometricians and educators in general we hear of teachers’ being evaluated based on their students’ scores on state examinations and, unbelievably, their evaluations’ being published in the local media. Schools are being closed because of low scores on the state tests. They are being handed over to for-profit educational management organizations for the same reason. Entire faculties are being dismissed as part of popular “turnaround” programs.

Can you even imagine the medical profession standing by and accepting a system by which hospitals are evaluated, ranked, and even closed based solely on the number of deaths that occur in the hospital and having those numbers reported prominently in the media? Can you imagine the legal profession standing by and accepting a system by which lawyers are evaluated, ranked, and even have their licenses revoked based solely on the number of cases they lose and having those numbers reported prominently in the media?

Accountability is a responsibility for every profession including education. But the methods of accountability that have been developed to address the need for performance measures have threatened the very heart and soul of the educational process and its purposes.

Scores on standardized tests are not valid or reliable measures for comparative purposes. They are measures of progress that should be used to inform decisions about improving teaching and learning and the process of education and we need to be reminded of that fact.

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