Luckily, our FCAT days are behind us. After all, the snacks used as bribery tactics and all of the time out of class in the world couldn’t make up for the fact that state standardized testing is a waste of schools’ time and an unfair indicator of teacher and student success.
Standardized testing is problematic for a number of reasons: A year’s worth of learning is supposed to be demonstrated in a two-day testing period, and teachers are confined to teaching only the material covered on the test. Obviously, students learn at different paces and are at different skill levels for certain subjects, so the standardized testing model has long been criticized as a poor measure of a child’s learning.
Many teachers are outraged at the idea of merit pay based on standardized testing scores. On Monday, “complex scores used in pay decisions of Florida public school teachers” were released, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The scores, known as “Value-Added Model” numbers, supposedly show the impact a teacher has on his or her students’ FCAT scores.
The first point of criticism the scores received, the Sentinel stated, is that about 70 percent of Florida teachers cover subjects not considered by state testing. The Sentinel highlighted the case of one P.E. teacher whose score is calculated based on the reading performance of 70 fourth-graders.
According to the Sentinel, “‘We do not have a fair system in place,” said Diana Moore, the president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. “We have a system that evaluates some teachers on their own students and most teachers on students they never see.”
In addition, Moore said, the formula used for calculating the VAM score is so convoluted that most teachers and students can’t explain it. It also doesn’t take into account a myriad of factors: a students’ parental involvement and how well a student handles tests.
Few are in support of the VAM teacher-pay calculation model. This year, VAM scores will determine the wage of 40 percent of Florida public school teachers’ salaries.
Florida’s standardized-testing problem needs a solution. While merit-based pay for teachers makes sense on paper, the reality is that many facts are outside of a teacher’s control when it comes to instructing a variety of students with different socioeconomic backgrounds and learning capabilities.
“Teachers oppose the tests because they’re at odds with deep-seated American values about individual differences and worth,” wrote Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post. “(The tests) undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to and therefore most knowledgeable about problems are best positioned to deal with them.”
Indeed, Florida needs to take a more individualistic approach when it comes to evaluating public-school students. One dumbed-down standardized test only teaches students to hate math and reading, and basing merit pay on these tests punishes one of the most important — and most marginalized — group of public servants: teachers.
[A version of this editorial ran on page 6 on 2/25/2014 under the headline “Teacher scoring: an unfair indicator"]