Improving America’s Schools – Letter 1, Part 2 (Measuring Student Achievement)

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The following post is based on thoughts related to:

Letters to the Editor that the NY Times has recently received concerning public schools. The link is: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/opinion/l17educ.html?emc=eta1

Jacqueline Ancess writes, “In education, research on performance pay shows no substantive gains in student achievement, and all Mr. Obama’s policy will do is reinforce the ill-conceived notion that low-level standardized tests are a valid measure of student achievement. Instead, pay teachers a salary that signals teaching as a profession.”

The above comment has three areas that I want to address, performance pay, measuring student achievement, and professional pay. I discussed performance pay in my previous post. Now I will discuss measuring student achievement.

Ms. Ancess does not believe in using standardized tests to measure student achievement. I do, but there are some caveats that must be in place. First, there must be some advanced understanding on what concepts will be tested and at what level of rigor. Without that, the test is a crapshoot. Teachers are left hoping that what they covered is what is being tested. Teachers and students should not be assessed based on how lucky they are.

Second, rankings can not be based on just raw test scores. Data must be disaggregated and comparisons that are made must be based on similar peer groups. Otherwise, the AP calculus teacher at a high SES suburban school gets a free ride and the 9th grade pre-algebra teacher at the low SES urban school will always look inept.

Finally, there should be a value added component. The goal should be to move each student forward. Again, the teacher at the high SES school must be as accountable to demonstrating growth as the teacher at the low SES school.

When these caveats are in place, standardized tests can and should be used to measure student performance. It is good for students, especially poor and minority students, and it is good for the profession.

T.W.A. – Your turn…

Improving America’s Schools – Letter 1, Part 1 (Performance Pay)
Improving America’s Schools – Letter 1, Part 3 (Professional Pay)

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