To the Editor:
My first job was at a private elementary school in an affluent suburb of Ohio. When most of my 5th graders scored above the 90th percentile on the standardized test at the end of the year, I thought I must be a very gifted teacher and congratulated myself on doing such a great job.
After another very “successful” year at the school, I decided I was worth a higher salary and so applied to the public school district in Cleveland. Wanting to share my brilliance with children in need, I agreed to teach in an “inner city” school. Words can’t express the horror I experienced when the average test scores for my students were below the 10th percentile.
I decided I was not competent to teach such needy children and obtained a job in a middle-income community in another city. I found out that those children generally scored between the 40th and 60th percentiles on the same standardized assessments.
At some point during those first years, I understood that the standardized tests reflected the socioeconomic backgrounds of my students and not my teaching. Testing experts tell us that generally less than 15 percent of these test scores can be attributed to the classroom teacher. Even that assumes that the tests are designed to assess the academic achievement of a particular population and are properly administered.
Of course, a teacher can be evaluated, but it takes the knowledgeable and time-consuming involvement of other professionals. Tests can be used, but they must be designed to assess the in-school learning of each child in the class. The competence of a teacher cannot be determined by a cheap, one-size-fits-all test.
How very sad that this is not obvious to all.
Linda Mele Johnson
Long Beach, Calif.
The author is a retired teacher.
A version of this article appeared in the May 07, 2014 edition of Education Week as The Results of Standardized Tests Do Not Reflect Teachers’ Skills