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Standardized Testing: The Missing Piece

Many an administrator has asked their staff to reflect on a question similar to “Are you teaching if the students aren’t learning?” The primary responsibility of every teacher is to help their students’ learn to the best of their ability. As this question suggests, focusing on student learning outcomes must be a key component of any teacher evaluation. The goal of many standardized test programs is to provide data on student learning as a measure of school and teacher success.

Presumably, the best teachers will have students with the best outcomes and weaker teacher’s will have students achieve lesser outcomes. The problem with this approach can be illustrated by examining how football coaches are evaluated. Ohio State has not had a coach win the honor of Big Ten Coach of the Year since 1979 despite having won 14 conference titles and 2 National Championships in that span. During these championship seasons, if coaching outcomes were the most important component how we evaluate coaches, than an Ohio State Football Coach should have won the Coach of the Year Award multiple times. It is almost as if the Head Coach at Ohio State is not eligible for this honor, and for good reason, the expectations at Ohio State are so high that any season without a championship is a disappointment. Winning the championship isn’t something special, it’s just doing your job. With coaching and teaching it’s not just about the outcome, it’s the outcome in relation to the goals.

It’s the student goals that are missing when we look at standardized test performance to evaluate teachers. Some students have a goal of barely passing. This means they’re expecting to not learn a third of the curriculum, if not more. Other students don’t even care if they pass the class because they’re more concerned with having a safe place to be and a warm lunch to eat. Others plan on attending prestigious universities and don’t want to miss a single question. Another group of students have plenty of goals related to their future, but aren’t given the opportunity to demonstrate career based skills (automotive, sales, services, construction) in a college-prep academic setting. We can’t properly evaluate teacher performance until we take an interest in the goals of their students. We need to take a greater interest in student voice and their passions. Teachers can’t impose outside goals on their students if they want students to take ownership of their education. Until testing data incorporates more information about what students expect out of their time in the classroom then we will never be able to really evaluate teacher performance.

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