The L.A. Times investigation into standardized test scores is amazing, and you should definitely be reading everything they have. The Times deserves lots of praise, especially for it’s humane but honest treatment of the teachers, for whom this must be a stressful and, for many, shameful ordeal. Consider this teacher:

Even at Third Street Elementary in Hancock Park, one of the most well-regarded schools in the district, Karen Caruso stands out for her dedication and professional accomplishments.

A teacher since 1984, she was one of the first in the district to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In her spare time, she attends professional development workshops and teaches future teachers at UCLA….

Third Street Principal Suzie Oh described Caruso as one of her most effective teachers.

But seven years of student test scores suggest otherwise.

In the Times analysis, Caruso, who teaches third grade, ranked among the bottom 10% of elementary school teachers in boosting students’ test scores.

This is clearly not a lazily tenured teacher, but someone who was trying in earnest and working hard at being good at their job. She was not being protected by the union and the school district’s decision to hide these scores, she was being done harm and is one of the victims here. Good teachers want this information to make them better teachers, which you can see in her response to the news of her poor scores:

Still, Caruso said the numbers were important and, like several other teachers interviewed, wondered why she hadn’t been shown such data before by anyone in the district.

“For better or worse,” she said, “testing and teacher effectiveness are going to be linked.… If my student test scores show I’m an ineffective teacher, I’d like to know what contributes to it. What do I need to do to bring my average up?”

When you read these stories about teachers across the hall from one another, with the same population of students from the same socioeconomic background, yet performing so vastly different from each other I find it hard not to reflect on a dying notion in educational reform: that the problem is that teachers need is more resources and smaller classrooms. In the not-so-distant future it will unanimously be understood that this was a completely wrongheaded idea, and we will wonder how it could ever have been believed. It will be like price controls in the 70s, or the idea that the Soviet Union would outperform the U.S. The not-so-distant future will wonder how anyone ever thought education could be reformed when performance and pay were so disconnected, and when nobody -not even the teachers themselves- knew who was succeeding and who was failing.

Smaller classrooms and more resources without better information and incentives would be like trying to save a sinking ship by filling up the gas tank.

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