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Our Obsession in American Education With Ranking People - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society
"ONE OF THE KEY findings of the value-added study published by Raj Chetty and his colleagues—a finding rarely mentioned in the media—was that out-of-school factors, such as family income and neighborhood poverty, currently have a far greater effect on the achievement gap than do differences in teacher quality between schools (which, the researchers reported, accounts for only seven percent of the current gap). They also acknowledged that their study, like almost every other major value-added study ever conducted, took place in a low-stakes setting—that is, teachers were not being evaluated or paid according to their students’ test scores. In a higher-stakes setting, they warned, educators might teach to the test, or even cheat, in ways that would cause test scores to lose their predictive power. Nonetheless, they were hopeful: If the top value-added teachers in the country could somehow be moved systematically to the lowest-performing schools, they theorized, perhaps three-quarters of the current test-score achievement gap could be closed. That theory is almost impossible to test, however, given the unattractive working conditions in many low-income schools. When a Department of Education/Mathematica Policy Research trial offered more than 1,000 high-value-added teachers $20,000 to transfer to a poorer school, less than a quarter chose to apply. Inconveniently, too, those who did transfer produced test-score gains among elementary school students but not among middle schoolers—a reminder that teachers who succeed in one environment will not always succeed in another.

Contemporary education researchers, among them Andrew Butler and John Hattie, have written extensively on the most academically powerful uses of testing. And when it comes to gathering information about how teachers should actually teach, Butler and Hattie’s work suggests that value-added measurement, as useful as it is in other ways, is mostly beside the point. That’s because it’s based on standardized state tests given toward the end of the school year. Spending a lot of time preparing for those tests turns out to be counter-productive for learning. Research shows that kids learn best when classroom teaching is geared not toward high-stakes year-end tests, but toward low-stakes, unit-level quizzes, created and graded by classroom teachers who use the results to refine their instruction throughout the year. The soundest use of testing, in other words, is as an instrument to figure out what children do and do not know, so that we can teach them better along the way.

Any achievement testing attached to high stakes for educators invites teaching to the test, which often narrows the curriculum in counter-productive ways. Because of that, Jonah Rockoff, who co-authored the value-added study with Raj Chetty, suggests that we need to come up with new ways to measure teachers’ influence on students, perhaps by studying how teachers affect students’ behavior, attendance, and GPA. “Test scores are limited,” Rockoff says, “not just in their power and accuracy, but in the scope of what we want teachers and schools to be teaching our kids. … There’s not just one thing we care about our kids learning. We’re going to measure how kids do on socio-cognitive outcomes, and reward teachers on that, too.”

But is it really fair to judge teachers on their students’ attendance, given the role that, say, parenting and health play? Should a teacher be punished if a boy in her homeroom gets into a fistfight during recess? These are the kinds of questions we’ll need to grapple with as we experiment with new kinds of education science. And as we do, we’ll need to keep in mind the much bigger question suggested by the history of failed American school reforms: Should we continue to devote our limited political, financial, and human resources to measuring the performance of students and teachers, or should we devote those resources to improving instruction itself?"
standardizedtesting  testing  education  policy  history  phrenology  iq  2015  danagoldstein  nclb  anationtrisk  johnfriedman  jonahrockoff  rajchetty  economics  valueadded  assessment  instruction  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  schools  rankings  measurement  sat  robertrosenthal  lenorejacobson  tedbell  georgewbush  politics  johnhattie  andrewbutler  sorting 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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