President Barack Obama seemed to give a nod to both supporters and opponents of test-based teacher evaluations in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
“Teachers matter,” he said. “So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
Obama said a good teacher “can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000,” a reference to a recent study by economists at Harvard and Columbia, who concluded that effective teachers have a long-lasting positive impact on the life prospects of their students.
Here’s the problem. Most of the proposals to “reward the best” and “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn” rely on student test scores to determine which teachers are effective. The administration has pushed that approach through its Race to the Top grants and, more recently, through waivers to No Child Left Behind Act requirements. It’s the entire premise behind the economists’ study that Obama cited.
As Dana Goldstein writes in the Nation, “It can be difficult to balance test-based accountability with the sort of ‘creative, passionate’ teaching the president says he supports, especially if teachers are so worried about raising test scores that they teach-to-the-test or — as we’ve unfortunately seen around the country — cheat, or are pressured by administrators to do so.”
Of course, it’s easy to bash teaching to the test; almost as easy as bashing teachers. Let’s just say this: Starting this spring, Indiana students will be retained in third grade if they don’t pass the new test called IREAD-3. Let’s hope third-grade teachers are teaching students the skills they need to pass that test.