Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker

Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests is another MUST READ piece by education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

Although four years late, the legislature seems to be finally heeding the substantial evidence on teacher evaluation and is considering SB 380, a bill to decouple state standardized tests. This bill, though it only covers state standardized tests, is a step in the right direction.

There are those, however, who cannot seem to let go of the idea that we need standardized tests to measure teachers, even if those tests are wholly inappropriate for this use. They want a measure that looks “objective” no matter how scientifically invalid that measure is.

Thus, some Connecticut groups advocate replacing the invalid use of SBAC and SAT for teacher evaluation with an off-the-shelf, commercially produced test never proven to be valid for teacher evaluation: the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) test.

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

This paper is the only study on the use of MAP in teacher evaluations. And it proves that it is invalid to use MAP for this purpose. It is irresponsible for Connecticut policy makers to accept the use of MAP in teacher evaluations unless and until there is empirical evidence to prove its validity.

Connecticut teachers and children do not deserve an easy, but invalid, solution to the complex task of measuring teacher quality. They deserve the right solution.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on this piece were it was first published in the Stamford Advocate – http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-failed-application-of-7251515.php

  • GloriaB

    The use of these standardized tests to evaluate teachers is ridiculous. Teachers should be held accountable for student learning- but not in this way. The tests don’t always measure what has been taught. The results aren’t available in a timely fashion and can’t be used to help students. Teachers don’t really know what is on the tests- so they prepare lessons aimed at guessing what students should know for the test. The amount of time wasted on test prep and test taking is ridiculous as well.
    I am a retired teacher, and I work as a math tutor in a public middle school. I have a student who has been absent for over 20 consecutive days. if she shows up tomorrow, she will have to take the SBAC test. Her teachers’ evaluations will be partially based on those test results even though that student wasn’t there to receive any instruction . Makes no sense at all!
    When I worked as a teacher, I gave a quiz or a test every week to assess my students’ progress. Then I re-taught concepts as needed. I didn’t need to rely on a once a year high-stakes test from a greedy corporation to tell me which students needed help.
    SB 380 decouples student test scores from teacher evaluations. Let’s find a better way to evaluate what teachers do. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of SBAC for good!

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