Reason #1: Tying test scores to teacher compensation suggests that teachers are holding back on using their experience, expertise, and time because they are not being paid for the extra effort.
Instead, the evidence is strong that most teachers simply do not know what to do when confronted with concentrations of poor children who are unprepared for the grade level or content taught. The surge in students from non-English speaking families further complicates teachers' jobs. . .
What is more worrying, and should be the object of reform efforts in Washington and state capitals, is that the leaders of most urban districts and schools-those who set the tone and the boundaries of practice-do not know what to do to improve the educational prospects of poor children. Moreover, there is no evidence that the policymakers on boards of education, in legislatures, or in departments of education have a clear vision of how to educate concentrations of poor children effectively. Otherwise, after forty years of serial reforms, the gap between poor and affluent students would have narrowed more than it has.
Reason # 2: The standardized tests in most states are lousy and so are the standards they are designed to measure.
Many well-organized groups have raised legitimate concerns that standardized testing can be detrimental to students by undermining the richness and breadth of their education, and drawing a false picture of academic achievement. But it is Secretary Duncan who has said that he believes that existing tests are weak and easily manipulated by many states, and that state academic standards are too plentiful, too vague, and too easy.
Reason #3: The idea of compensating teachers individually in order to differentiate their performance from their school colleagues defeats a principal tenet of good instruction-that teachers need to learn from one another to solve difficult pedagogical challenges.
The Department of Education is praising higher-performing charter schools such as KIPP that strongly emphasize a culture of teacher cooperation. Establishing such a culture is one of the options under the department's proposed rules that states and districts can use to turn around failed . . .
Good instructional practice can be thought of as being much more like professional basketball than professional golf. The legendary Boston Celtics won thirteen championships through their unselfish play and relentless team defense. The benchwarmers, who sharpened the game of the starters, received the same championship rings as Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Golfers, in contrast, are paid only when they score better than other competitors.
The last thing we need is to isolate city teachers from each other by introducing test-score driven competition with their colleagues.
Reason #4: Most teachers do not teach a grade or subject that is subject to standardized testing.
By itself, this is reason enough to be wary of the Department of Education's proposal. No framework or advice, or even a vague notion, is offered by the department as to how a kindergarten or French teacher would be evaluated as a part of the new scheme. If the idea is that "we're-all-in-the-same-boat" will govern the evaluation of the entire school, then the teacher-student identification capability need not be one of three absolute conditions for application.
Reason # 5: Even reliable standardized tests are valid only when they are used for their intended purposes.
The state tests mandated by NCLB for grades 3–8 and one year of high school are to measure how well students have mastered their state standards. They are not designed to measure how well teachers teach.
Reason #6: A key assumption of using test scores to judge teachers is that students are randomly assigned, first, to schools, and, second, to classes. Neither is true.
This is a methodological problem that has bedeviled the evaluation of charter and magnet schools, since it so difficult to assign a numerical value for having parents who seek better schools for their children. Ask principals of affluent suburban schools if they could get away with random classroom assignments. The situation is the same in city schools. If Mr. Jones knows a little Spanish, then he should take the recent immigrant from Mexico who speaks no English; the recently hired Ms. Cuccio can take the below-grade level readers; while the veteran complainer Mrs. Green gets most of the kids already reading at grade level. This "selection bias" contaminates the value and validity of much statistically driven research. . .
Reason #7: State data systems are in their infancy. It turns out that it is harder, is more expensive, and takes longer for states to produce reliable, accurate, and secure longitudinal data on students and teachers than widely assumed. . .
Reason #8: The rationale for tying tests to compensation is not clear.
One possible reason is to increase the effort, time, and resources devoted to teaching the content and skills to be tested. However, the consensus is very strong that the No Child Left Behind Act's testing mandate has narrowed instruction too much already at the expense of art, music, social studies, and foreign language instruction. A second reason might be to differentiate among teachers to identify the "slugs" from the "maestros." However, in most schools, one does not need a standardized test to identify the worst and best, and it will not work to sort those in the middle with sufficient precision to withstand the inevitable court challenge. A third reason might be to instill better practice. But if teacher compensation does not keep up with inflation because of poor student performance, then teachers will . . . what? Work harder? Dig deeper? Stay longer? There is no evidence that such measures improve instructional practices or student outcomes.