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Save Our Schools and Educational Assessments
July 26, 2011
On Saturday, thousands of educational advocates in DC and across the nation will be marching in order to Save Our Schools. A list of their guiding principles is posted here. Among their demands is “An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation.” But it’s the very first bullet on the website under this principle that resonates with NWEA and the Kingsbury Center: we enthusiastically share SOS’s viewpoint that “The use of multiple and varied assessments…” is necessary “…to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.”
Save Our Schools—supported by Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, José Vilson, Deborah Meier, Monty Neill, and others—goes on to demand the end of pay for performance and school closures based on test performance. This is a trickier issue. Personally, I don’t like pay for performance. I don’t think teachers are intentionally doing a bad job and would do a good job if you just gave them an additional thousand dollars; I just don’t think that’s what’s going on. I think teachers are doing good work with good intentions, often in the face of little information about whether they are being effective, and with much public scrutiny about their every choice. I think that the judicial use of multiple sources of data can be beneficial in helping teachers understand how they are doing with students and how they could do better. I also think that data is how educational administrators and policymakers can understand how the system is performing and how to make changes that improve outcomes for students. And I think that publishing data about what is actually going on in the classroom for students and teachers will help the general public understand real facts instead of relying on media-hyped anecdotes.
I don’t think that SOS is advocating for the system to operate blindly without any data. I think it’s more likely that SOS is against using data in a high stakes way the same way I am: it is too easy to do it wrong. It’s too easy to use data to come to differing conclusions that can have detrimental effects on students, teachers, schools, and the field of education—in that order. Closing schools based on a single annual “proficiency rate” regardless of circumstances or actual student performance and growth doesn’t make any sense, but using multiple data metrics as pieces of information that can help move schools to where they need to be academically and operationally does. While I don’t agree with the way SOS has phrased their disapproval of using student data for high stakes decisions, I think we would agree that if we could do it well and thoughtfully, data driven decision making would improve our nation’s education system.
For a really good overview of some of the challenges in using data for high stakes purposes, see Kingsbury Center Director John Cronin’s presentation “Measuring and Modeling Growth in a High Stakes Environment”.
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