We’ve all heard the saying “what is tested is what is taught.” Ultimately, this statement has much truth. It’s human nature to try to do what is expected, especially under high stakes conditions.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had some benefits. We finally had concrete data that some subgroups were under performing. The collaborative school cultures created to analyze data reduced the classroom isolation and bunker mentalities that limited previous individual and organizational development.
But there were unintended consequences. In some states, the curriculum was narrowed, standards were lowered, emphasis on non-tested subjects decreased, and activities and strategies that could increase test scores became the focus.
As we have this discussion on teacher evaluation and the likely integration of standardized test scores in the evaluation process, what will be the unintended consequences of including test scores under a growth model?
On one hand, teachers of students with diverse learning needs may be able to show significant growth.
On the other hand, the literature is emerging that growth models are unstable when used for decisions for individual teachers. Educators will have to define what is considered appropriate growth at all levels of the scale, from teachers showing growth for students significantly below grade level, to understanding what can be expected for teachers showing “little growth” for students at the very high levels of achievement.
These will be the next challenges that any teacher evaluation system using the growth model will have to confront.
How will the expectations for demonstrating growth influence teacher behaviors? Will this lessen the role of testing, or will this lead to an increase in a testing focus as teachers try to maximize points for evaluation purposes when salaries are on the line?
On the larger scale, what will be the effects of the continued publication of test scores as part of school profiles? Without other visible representations of what goes on in schools, how else will schools demonstrate to the public that theirs is a quality school?
Lots of questions. Policymakers and leaders will have to look out for the next set of unintended consequences.
If the saying what is tested is what is taught is true, then it may be inevitable that what is evaluated and publicized is.... what we will see in schools and classrooms.
Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.