Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Loretta Prisco On TDRs

A doctor offers you medicine for a very serious illness, perhaps fatal. She says there is a success rate of 99.9 percent, but it may advance the illness. Do you take the medicine?

Ah, but wait – before you swallow the first pill, the doctor tells you that there is a 53 point margin of error. Are you thinking twice about it?

The lawyer will take your case, assuring you that there is a 98% chance that you will win – a big time lawsuit – and asks for a payment of $10,000. Good odds, you jump, which line do I sign on? Did you write the check yet? You might want to put the pen away - there is a 53 point margin of error.

And so it is with the Teacher Data Reports released by the DOE to the world. There is a 53 point margin of error with the data! A teacher’s career will rest on a score that can be seriously flawed.

Some say that the data is valuable if calculated correctly. But I would like to dig deeper. Too often we read of the education “miracles” in Texas, Georgia, and D.C., only to find the massive cheating and dumbing down of tests that went on. Even here in the Empire State, scores had to be recalibrated.

Should a teacher be evaluated? Absolutely! How does one rate a teacher? That is another article. But we know how not to rate a teacher –by standardized tests. Common sense dictates that publicly humiliating and shaming a teacher will not improve teaching and learning. The Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has warned that the data that will be used to evaluate teachers are so unstable that the that they cannot be considered fair or reliable enough to make operational decisions about teachers.

I always wondered why a student who was a high achiever in 4th grade could fall below standard in 5th. If a child is reading successfully, really reading, not test prepped in 4th grade, he should be successful in 5th, not “forget” how to read well. Most of us who are readers in our adult life did not lose our ability to read when reading instruction stopped at some point in school.

I always wondered why a student who was not a successful reader after attending school 10 months a year over 7 years, could go to a 6 week – half day summer program and voila, become an achieving reader. This, although out of the 30 half days, several days are spent testing, the teacher may have been absent at least one day, and the student out a few more. Do we hire magicians for summer school? Why not cancel year round school and send all children to school for a 30 day summer program? Imagine the money we would save!

Standardized tests are not any more than even the testing companies agree - a measure of a child’s ability on a particular day and should not be used, as the only measurement of a child’s ability or a teacher’s competence.

These are the dark days of education. We pummel our teachers and deny children the joy of learning and the opportunity to become life long learners and critical thinkers.
Diane Ravitch is absolutely right. “We will someday view this era as one in which the nation turned its back on its public schools, its children, and its educators.”

Loretta Prisco is a founding member of the Independent Community of Educators (ICE)

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