Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another teacher complains about accountability

Did you see the op-ed piece by the Portland middle school teacher in the Oregonian today?

Parts of it were so rich, I just had to paste it below and add my editorial comments (in red.)

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted

(I pick it up in the fourth paragraph...)
Teachers, who see their students daily, understand that academic improvement is an ongoing process not measurable by slide rule or abacus. Which I guess means that tests cannot measure learning at all. This is always the crux of their complaints about test based accountability. They pretend that the question of "How well does Johnny read?" is so complex and mysterious that only trained teachers who see the kids every day can begin to answer it, and tests are worthless for such purposes. What a crock.

Many of us resent society's cavalier dehumanization of our students, all in the name of "accountability." I love it. By giving kids tests we dehumanize them. Any evidence of this? Even more upsetting is the unspoken truth behind this numeric infatuation: We live in a society that does not trust professional educators to do the job for which they have been trained and hired. She veers unintentionally into some truthful territory here. One might argue that the public has very good reason for this distrust.The elephant in the middle of the room is the sad fact that test scores exist not so much to measure student ability but to reassure taxpayers who are uncomfortable that money taken from their paychecks is going to educate someone else's children. It's hard to understand what she is saying here unless it is just an indirect way of calling people greedy. OF COURSE the tests are to reassure taxpayers that the schools are doing their job. Why does she say this is the "elephant in the room," as if it is something nobody will acknowledge?

Administrators have been put in the untenable position of catering to this societal distrust. In other words, the administrators have to win back public trust by making sure all the kids learn to read and do sums. Principals and superintendents are the visible figureheads of any educational team; they are the obvious targets when test scores -- trumpeted ad nauseam by the media -- indicate that a school or district is "underperforming." In order to maintain job security, they are forced to go along with the illogical idea that a child's ability can be gauged by a number. There it is! A denial that a test score has meaning!

Teachers, on the other hand, concern themselves with whether their students are actually learning, which is seldom quantifiable. Reading and math ability is not quantifiable? Pretty good scam, wouldn't you say, to claim that you are a highly trained professional, and there is no way to measure your effectiveness! No Child Left Behind has forced administrators to be more concerned with numbers than with children or learning. People who should be on the same side -- the side that supports students -- are forced apart by the quick-fix nature of our society.

Real learning requires time and hard work. But most Americans would rather look at a number in a newspaper than visit their local schools or contribute sweat equity to public education. Her contempt for us is palpable. We don't contribute, we just look at a number.

And our children, regardless of their test scores, are intelligent enough to learn the lesson inherent in this attitude: Why should they put time and effort into learning, when our society so obviously tells them that public education is not worth the time or effort? What self serving moral preening. Society doesn't value her enough, she lectures us. The funny thing is that the "lesson" that she claims is "inherent in this attitude" --- it doesn't follow at all! Even if I buy her argument: 1) test scores don't reflect actual learning; 2) people are lazy and focus only on test scores -- how does this tell children that public education is not worth the time and effort? And she, I guarantee you, thinks she teaches kids critical thinking, when she can't even make a coherent logical argument.

D.M. Suydam teaches language arts at Five Oaks Middle School in Portland.

This little essay reveals attitudes that are not uncommon among public school teachers, I'm afraid. Many teachers reject the notion that learning can be measured at all. They think it is such a mysterious process that a test cannot possibly reveal what a child knows.

Many times they will set up a straw man when arguing against testing and test-based accountability: "there is no way any test can measure all aspects of learning."

Yup. Nobody ever claimed a test could. But we are kinda interested in, say, whether our third graders can read. Can THAT be tested? Of course.

Hey, I'm critical of Oregon's tests, but I am not anti test. I think Oregon's tests are bad because they don't give us reliable information when we try to answer the question "how well does Johnny read?"

But I am a firm believer in tests to monitor teacher effectiveness, and to identify student progress.

But teachers such as this one - we should worry when people like her are in charge of student learning.


Dare!PDX said...

What is really funny is how the chickens come home to roost. Since the New Deal stopped being the public rallying point for liberals they have been pushing that every additonal tax dollar collected went to schools and public safety.

After thirty years of hiding behind kids for every "temporary" tax increase, property tax request, sales tax push, lottery expansion, and additional bond measure the technique wore out. It's not greed it's common sense. I don't remember the national Democrat who said it but its true - the D's ceased to be the party of education and became the party of teacher's unions instead. The people know this and proceed critically with their hard earned dollars.

Tests may have flaws like any other statistical measure. Unfortunately its more efficient than harder to measure systems like letter grades. (I also remember the PPS giving me a test in the 80's and 90's long before they were vogue and hey aren't the SAT's the statewide bragging point).

I was critical initially about how No Child Left Behind would work through the system. I was skeptical that it wouldn't blow up in the Prez. face. A year ago though I saw a presentation from Roosevelt HS Principal about the changes the north Portland school was making. I was impressed by the radical and posative changes made and have been sold on it ever since. Regardless of what I read in the Oregonian, if Roosevelt and Jefferson where under the gun twenty years ago their problems would likely be solved.

gus miller said...

I was struck by the ignorance this "educator" showed. She blames it all on No Child Left Behind. Yet the state, ESDs and districts have been testing for decades. Portland District 1J even has its own PALT test which must be calibrated for comparison purposes with statewide tests administered in most Oregon districts. NCLB did not introduce any new tests. It merely requires that schools report test results in ways that reflect the performance of at-risk, ESL, special ed and other groups that the feds are sending money to the states for additional education services.

I would think that any knowledgeable educator would be more concerned about testing redundancy in Oregon public schools.

Anonymous said...

First of all: Five Oaks Middle School is part of the Beaverton School District. It's not in Portland.

I should know because I went there!

Sad for me.

When I attended, it was a white suburban version of the Blackboard Jungle. The year I left the entire administration of the school was replaced in an effort to restore order.

The more I reflect on the milk-toast left-leaning indoctrination I got at Beaverton SD schools, the angrier I become.