Evaluations and the Sport of Political Football

Aug 13, 2018 by

It is impossible to score a legitimate touchdown in the over-popular sport of political football.  That’s especially true when standardized testing is in play.

Michael Hynes, the schools superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford schools on Long Island, regards them as “meaningless, invalid, and inhumane”. He doesn’t specify whether he’s referring solely to the current state exams or if he feels they’re all doomed to failure because of their common immutable nature and historical application.

Certainly when used as a so-called evaluative tool for rating teacher performance or to rigidly track and “define” students, they’re not only inaccurate, they’re evil.

In a recent letter to educators, he states in bold caps, “I do not care what your state growth score is” and invites them, in slightly different words, to toss them in the toilet, if the plumbing can take it.
The superintendent’s objections make a lot, if not total sense and his revulsion is refreshing, though I think he “paints with too broad a brush.”
He notes these standardized tests are not balanced ( though he doesn’t give an illustration of how they are askew). His observation is unquestionably right that they exert unproductive pressure on students and teachers and are in practice not used as theoretically claimed. Classroom work and projects reflect progress and achievement more reliably.
The superintendent is evidently on the same page as his district’s parents, as it has a 75% opt-rate rate as compared with 3% in New York City, where standardized tests are often exploited, and arguably conceived, to railroad educators out of their profession, withdraw supports to struggling schools, and seal the doom of those schools with a view to eventual, expedited closure.

Although there is currently no penalty for students who “opt-out” of standardized testing, those in Patchogue-Medford who chose to sit and endure them, on the whole did not perform well on them. But that doesn’t equate with faring poorly as learners.  It reveals more about the tests themselves than about the students.

The champions and cheerleaders for standardized tests come from a wide spectrum. Many of them are rigid ideologues with a political agenda that drives their positions on education, especially against public schools and teacher unions. With the exception of a small minority who have good-faith but are genuinely misled, their adamant and unbending infatuation is not predicated on the belief that standardized tests are an objective and dependable measurement.

They are “o.k.” with these tests being used for entrapment on baseless charges of incompetence, stratification of curriculum and the art of teaching, conformity-enforcement, drastically reduced pedagogical independence, and tracking of students to justify foreclosing their access to quality education.

Some contractors, who are beholden to the policy-makers, may not personally be driven by animus, but financial profit, which has its own hypnotic influence.

Foremost and despicable among the reasons that standardized tests are venerated as though they were icons of religious faith, is that they lend themselves, or have been co-opted, for their utility as links between students’ performance on these exams and the job security of their teachers.

When teachers are targeted because they are outspoken, individualistic, whistle-blowers, or too costly because of their seniority, the false evidence of standardized test results provides the perfect cover.The numerous complex factors that affect student outcome on these standardized tests is ignored.

Those who swear by the efficacy of standardized tests are typically not upholders of a high standard of education. The main fault of these exams is less that they are heartless than that they do not lend themselves as blueprints for improvement. They do not capitalize positively; they exploit negatively.

“Reformist” rowdies and bagmen plug standardized tests and accuse dissenting teacher unions of obstruction because they are obstacles to the exams’ fraudulence.

Right now, these standardized test results cannot be used as professional death warrants in New York State, but this prohibition may be reversed next year.

Standardized tests are not innately wicked. There is a role for them as part of a multi-dimensional strategy to constructively assess and plan. But this demands that they be developed by top-level researchers with no profit-enticements, political agenda, or ties to policy-makers.

Teachers and administrators will accept and even embrace standardized tests that have, in the proper context, been created and employed for a sound and honorable purpose. But don’t ask them to suit up as quarterbacks in a farce of political football.

Ron Isaac

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