Let’s Test All the People, all the time
There are two competing ideas in the Maryland General Assembly. One seems sort of logical, the other counting what can’t be counted.
Let’s begin with the sort of logical one. The federal law, Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that 95% of students be tested annually. Over the past five years, Maryland has tested 98.5% of its students. Students who are severely disabled are not tested.
A Frederick County delegate has introduced a bill that would exempt from testing those students whose disability is so severe that the student is non-verbal and lacking communicative competency. Does it make any sense at all to test these students with grade level tests? Apparently, it does to the Department of Legislative Services that has cautioned exempting these students could bring Maryland below the 95% threshold and that MIGHT jeopardize federal funding. Let’s be clear, this is a very small percentage of Maryland’s students. The law does not allow for an alternative assessment for the children with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Exactly what is the point of this testing?! It torments the kids and aggravates the teachers who must administer something that is not even entirely meaningful to students without disabilities. This bill was introduced last year and failed. Looks like it is going to fail again this year. No one ever said politics is logical.
Another requirement of the ESSA is that each state submit a plan that explains how teachers will be evaluated. Maryland’s plan has been submitted and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education. However, Governor Hogan calls this plan a farce. Here is why. The State’s plan says that test scores will account for 55% of a teacher’s rating. Hogan thinks that is entirely too low and is pressuring the State Board of Education to raise it to 85% of a teacher’s rating. It would be delightful in Wonderland if we could truly assess a teacher’s effectiveness by just looking at test scores. But the fact is that students' test scores have never been shown to be correlated with a teacher’s ability to teach. You would think that people who seem obsessed with numbers would have wanted some research to support this idea. There are other factors such as the teacher’s relationship with the children. And the teacher’s knowledge of the content and the teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject. These factors may influence test scores but there are other factors that also influence test scores over which a teacher has little to no control. These are the abilities of the students, the support of the student’s family and the availability of teaching materials.
The American culture has always had a fascination with things we can measure and put a number to. Perhaps it is a test of our good sense to see how far we are willing to let this fascination take over our schools.