This educator loves tests. In fact, at least once, a test saved his life.
Severe illness forced a midnight visit to the infirmary during bootcamp, and the corpsman stuck a thermometer in my mouth. He determined my temperature to be an immediately life-threatening 106 degrees. A moment later, he promptly pushed me into a shower stall — clothes, shoes and all — under a steady stream of ice cold water until my fever abated to a point where I could be transported to an in-patient facility for care. Fluids, anti-inflammatory medications and several days of bed rest followed.
Nobody questioned the competency of the corpsman because of my illness nor was his access to additional medical resources curtailed as a punitive measure.
If any school nurse had a series of children come into the infirmary with a fever that high, every resource of the local health department would be deployed, in a heartbeat, to assist in the effort to determine the disease vectors, contain the outbreak and administer every reasonable precaution. Is there any doubt that an expert in epidemiology would be summoned? Ambulances would be dispatched and parents summoned to the local emergency room. Every possible palliative treatment would be administered and no expense would be spared to restore those children to health.
Can you imagine the uproar if the Department of Health omitted any of these steps?
Such should be the protocols following troubling results on diagnostic tests, whether they ascertain body temperatures, blood pressure or even the level of educational attainment. Regrettably, our society does not currently share the same philosophy when confronting the problem of intractable low academic achievement. We prefer to blame the patient for the malady when it is a question of failing to thrive academically.
Please, do not think that educators are generally opposed to the routine administration of standardized assessments in public schools. Teachers invented tests and standardized tests are meant to be the educational equivalent of sticking a thermometer in a “patient’s” mouth. The data provided can frequently be useful in guiding and informing instruction.
Most educators recognize the value of the information generated by such efforts. Generally speaking, the use of standardized assessments as diagnostic tools to determine the allocation of available resources is reasonable.
However, the misguided public policy of using test data as an evaluative tool for professional educators will ultimately harm public education, perhaps irreparably. Threatening the careers of dedicated educators, many of whom choose to work with low-performing students, will serve no other end than to compel the most effective teachers to seek employment in schools with high test scores.
Historically, talented instructors have always migrated to jurisdictions with the highest compensation; tomorrow, they will gravitate toward those with superior test scores. Larger paychecks and higher test scores are found almost invariably in the jurisdictions blessed by more favorable staffing ratios and greater access to resources.
In the end, those who own stock in testing companies will be the only real winners in the No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top-inspired meritocracy that this nation’s schools have become. The one-in-five children who languish in areas of high need will be losers as the resources promised by Maryland’s Bridge to Excellence Act are siphoned off to fund ever-expanding accountability measures.
[The original version of this Commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on April 12, 2012. It has been slightly revised.]