To the Editor:
Teaching is a relationship, first among teacher and students, and then among those who surround that primary relationship. Because the most significant aspects of human relationships cannot be quantified, it is disconcerting to read that the Alliance for Excellent Education is proposing that teaching “be defined primarily by the measurable contributions that teachers make to student learning,” according to your article “Test Students to Enrich High School Teaching, Brief Urges” (April 2, 2008). The alliance would include other factors—if, that is, they can be counted with standardized tools.
It is true that some aspects of the teaching-learning relationship can be measured. But as Albert Einstein reportedly said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” In the case of schools today, focusing on the countable will only intensify the damage now caused by high-stakes testing. While the alliance calls for using multiple assessments, those, too, would be standardized. The proposal also supports the latest silver bullet, “value added,” in which “value” is but a multiple-choice test score.
U.S. education is increasingly controlled by standardized testing, from incessant “interim” and “benchmark” testing, to high-stakes graduation tests, to the No Child Left Behind Act. If the Alliance for Excellent Education’s agenda succeeds, that which is immeasurable but profoundly important will continue to disappear from our schools. Testing already sucks the life out of thousands of classrooms, with low-income and minority-group students suffering the most. Ironically, in this intense period of measurement, even gains on standardized exams such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress are slowing.
Public anger over NCLB’s testing regime is rising together with the intensity of testing. The question is whether teachers, parents, students, civil rights and religious groups, and community leaders will be able to halt the drive to reduce schooling to the easily measurable before the educational landscape becomes a desert.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Much of Teacher’s Role in Learning Is Immeasurable