Wash. Post Editorial Board Misses The Mark On Educational Testing And Teacher Accountability

A Washington Post editorial ignored evidence that high-stakes testing is not by itself an effective measure of student and teacher performance to baselessly allege that teachers unions want to dodge accountability.

Senate Plans To Rewrite No Child Left Behind

Testing One Of The “Few Key Areas” In Negotiations On No Child Left Behind. According to National Journal, as the Senate plans an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, “tension among negotiators on the issue will center on a few key areas -- when and how to test students to ensure they are achieving as they are expected, and how much control the federal government will have over states.” [National Journal1/20/15]

Wash. Post Editorial Alleges Teachers Unions Want To “Undermine” Annual Testing, Dodge Accountability

Wash Post. Editorial: Teachers Unions Pay “Lip Service To Accountability.” In a February 9 editorial, The Washington Post editorial board advocated for annual testing in any rewrite of NCLB and alleged that teachers unions don't want to be held accountable for test scores as part of teacher evaluations (emphasis added):

Among those seeking to undermine annual testing are teachers unions that give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account. Consider, for example, the latest “compromise” plan backed by the American Federation of Teachers: It would continue the practice of annual tests and publication of results, but most tests would not count in judging how well schools are performing. As for whether test scores should be a factor in teacher evaluations, as rightly advocated by the Obama administration, lawmakers from both parties are showing a lack of interest, The Post's Emma Brown reported.

There are valid concerns about over-testing; states and localities should take a hard look at whether they have a structure of unnecessary or duplicative tests. But the federal government must not back away from the common-sense principle that states need to test students, use the results to judge if schools are showing growth and take action against those that consistently fail to do so. [The Washington Post2/9/15]

But Experts Say High-Stakes Testing Alone Isn't An Effective Measure For Teachers Or Students

Economic Policy Institute: Technical Experts Agree That "Test Scores Alone Are Not A Sufficiently Reliable Or Valid Indicator Of Teacher Effectiveness." A group of 10 education experts published a report for the Economic Policy Institute in 2010 that pointed out the limits of relying on test scores, acknowledging that "[w]hile there are good reasons for concern about the current system of teacher evaluation, there are also good reasons to be concerned about claims that measuring teachers' effectiveness largely by student test scores will lead to improved student achievement." The report concluded:

We began by noting that some advocates of using student test scores for teacher evaluation believe that doing so will make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. However, because of the broad agreement by technical experts that student test scores alone are not a sufficiently reliable or valid indicator of teacher effectiveness, any school district that bases a teacher's dismissal on her students' test scores is likely to face the prospect of drawn-out and expensive arbitration and/or litigation in which experts will be called to testify, making the district unlikely to prevail. The problem that advocates had hoped to solve will remain, and could perhaps be exacerbated. [Economic Policy Institute, 8/27/10]

National Research Council: Standardized Tests “Fall Short Of Providing A Complete Measure Of Desired Educational Outcomes.” An expert panel of the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Science, released a report in 2011 that found “test-based incentives” do not produce greater student achievement. According to The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog:

The report said that standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance -- including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush's No Child Left Behind law -- “fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” according to a summary of the lengthy document.

The report, together with a number of other studies released in the past year, effectively serve as a warning to policymakers in states that are moving to implement laws, with support from the Obama administration, to make teacher and principal evaluation largely dependent on increases in students' standardized test scores.


Other studies in the past year have also cast doubt on the effectiveness and reliability of the value-added method of teacher/principal evaluation, which takes student test scores and puts them into a formula that is supposed to factor out other influences and determine the “value” a teacher has brought to a student's learning. [The Washington Post, Answer Sheet, 5/28/11]

2002 Study: High-Stakes Testing Can Even Decrease Student Learning. In a 2002 study published in the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives, Arizona State University researchers Audrey L. Amrein and David C. Berliner examined the high-stakes testing programs in 18 states and found that “in all but one analysis, student learning is indeterminate, remains at the same level it was before the policy was implemented, or actually goes down when high-stakes testing policies are instituted.” They also noted that “there are numerous reports of unintended consequences associated with high-stakes testing policies,” including “increased drop-out rates, teachers' and schools' cheating on exams, (and) teachers' defection from the profession.” [Education Policy Analysis Archives, 3/28/02]