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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 12/23/2010

Test scores can't prove whether teacher experience matters

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Monty Neill, interim executive director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest.

By Monty Neill
According to Bill Gates and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, teacher experience does not matter very much. Duncan says we should not "pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority" -- that is, knowledge and experience. Gates also recently denigrated teacher experience and masters’ degrees. He cited Jennifer R King’s literature review, which shows that experience does matter, but mostly that which they gain in their first five years of teaching.

But here’s the rub: They rely entirely on standardized test scores for evidence, even though the tests fail to provide adequate evidence for drawing these conclusions.

Even Duncan agrees that currently existing state tests over-emphasize basic skills and do not assess many essential aspects of learning. (Duncan’s proposed "solution," the multi-state consortia tests, is not likely to help very much, nor will “little value to the addition” uses of those tests.)

The tests are beatable with test prep schemes, for which a teacher does not need deep subject knowledge or an understanding of how each of her students best learns. A revolving door of minimally-trained, low-paid new teachers delivering from a script may be able to boost scores on low-level tests nearly as well as more experienced teachers. Is that what we want from our schools? Is it OK if it mostly happens to low-income children, where teaching to the test is most common?

Surveys have found that parents, communities, even legislators want far more from their schools than only academics – never mind academics reduced to test prep. Their goals for schools include basic skills, critical thinking, arts and literature, preparation for skilled work, social skills, citizenship, and physical and emotional health. (See Richard Rothstein’s Grading Education, Ch 2, for one example). Teachers must help our children develop these areas of knowledge, skill and competence.

Unless the U.S. educational goal is merely to boost scores on low-level tests, we need answers to more important questions before we evaluate the worth of teacher experience or degrees.

These questions include: Are teachers with more experience better than novices at ensuring deep understanding, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge? Do their capacities grow beyond the first five or ten years of experience?

Do more experienced teachers help students acquire the full range of outcomes Rothstein listed? Do they work more effectively toward comprehensive education goals with students in poverty, those with disabilities or limited English proficiency? Do they better help students become more engaged with their learning? Are they more successful in classrooms with a great deal of social, cultural and economic diversity?

Can they better provide the ‘soft’ skills that research increasingly finds are essential to later success in life? I expect in many cases the answer would be yes, significantly so.

Since test scores don’t tell us what we need to know, we need studies that look carefully at actual student work, as well as the long-term results of schooling. This can be done, but policymakers have shied from doing it, content to rely on inexpensive low-level tests.

Finally, the attacks on experienced teachers seem more motivated by politics and budgets than by research evidence. In a period of sharp budget cuts, the claim that teacher experience does not matter is increasingly used to justify the hiring of under-prepared novices to replace experienced teachers. The novices are expected to use scripted curricula to train, not educate, their mostly low-income and minority-group students, in order to boost test scores. If test scores rise like hot air balloons, that will be presented as “evidence” of success.

These issues raise broader questions about the goal of schooling. Is it to be merely employment driven functionality, for many students just to fit requirements of jobs with little cognitive demand? Or does this nation want educated students who can participate thoughtfully in civic and social issues and be lifelong learners? Those questions are not technical and cannot be answered by changes in standardized test scores. They require the consideration and actions of an involved citizenry.

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By Valerie Strauss  | December 23, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Monty Neill, Standardized Tests, Teacher assessment, Teachers  | Tags:  arne duncan, standardized tests, teacher assessment, teacher evalution, teachers, test scores  
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Comments

Test scores are not the problem. Test scores when used properly allow students to remediate information, allow teachers tools to determine hard learning spots, and can be used to validate instruction and curriculum. Unfortunately, I would dare to bet many teachers haven't a clue on how to validate testing.

First, it doesn't take a grad degree or doctorate to teach high school Algebra. It doesn't require a grad degree for any subject. Most grad degrees are geared toward school management. So why are we paying teachers more for getting a degree that in many cases are unused?

Second, if we are going to make grad degrees germane, then let's get colleges and teachers together with education leaders in the states and revamp the curriculum.

Last, every teacher should have a background in testing, understanding testing, and understanding the benefits of testing.

Posted by: jbeeler | December 23, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree that test scores do not tell the whole story -- but even test scores show gains for teacher experience, for up to 20 years of experience. see my huffington post column,
called Bloomberg, Cathie Black, Bill Gates, and the Condescension of the Oligarchy for some of the research studies that show this.

Posted by: leonie1 | December 23, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I agree, jbeeler, test scortes are not the problem. Standardized tests ARE part of the probelm. The increasing focus on questionably valid standardized exams for the past two decades is havung the effect of converting the public education system in this country into a "bubble fill-in training academy". Now THERE is a useful life skill and valuable transferable skill useful in post-secondary education.

The contention that "many teachers haven't a clue how to validate testing" is likely correct - but that is NOT the goal of the teacher. The teacher's goal is to impart knowledge, and, by example, alove and a respect for knowledge and the process of learning. Those things are not easily measured - thus, they are not important, according to Gates, Duncan, et al., who with their YEARS of classroom experience, knwo best.

Second point - jbeeler contends that it does not take a doctorate to teach high school algebra. Perhaps - but would you not PREFER that your kids, and everyone's kids, attend a class taught by a teacher with the highest academic attainment?? Would they not experience teaching at a musch deeper level of understadning? Not necessarily true, but the odds are that the higher the level of attainment the teacher holds, the better able that teacher is at conveying that information, at a deepr inteelectual level, due that teacher having the deepest possible engagement with their discipline.

jbeeler then contends that the "most grad degrees are geared towards school management". Not amongst the teachers I know - and I know many. Their degrees are discipline specific, obtained for two reasons - more money on the pay scale, but primarily they obtained the degrees because they wanted to be the best teachers they could be, because they felt a responsibility to bring more to the classroom for the students. That is why when a college drop-out, like Mr. Gates, disparages those with advanced degrees, loudly and publicly, it causes teachers to become, well, rather angry, at the least. The majority of teachers, according to published research, are driven by intrinsic motivations, and seek advanced degrees for the same reasons. How dare those outside the profession questionthese motives. Talk about hubris.

Jbeeler's final paragraph is interesting, if misguided, and a bit worrisome. Teachers do not deen a bcakground in the "benefits of testing" Such a statement would lead one to postulate that the framer of such a statemtn might have a vested interest in a testing company (justsayin'). OK let's list the "benefits of testing": 1) Narrowing of the curriculum to only the areas tested, basic math and reading; 2) the loss of about 33% of instructional time each year to test drill and preparation; 3) the shift n focus in the classroom from deeper involvement with the material to superficial nodes; 4) and the one most people don't give a s*@# about - increased stress and agony for teachers.

Ah, yes, the "benefits of testing" indeed.

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

And just so it does not appear that I am a paragon of negativity, i here offer some simple, yet effective measures which would actually help scools, students, and teachers:
1)limit class size, at all levels, to 15 students per class. Even (especially?) in the secondary schools.
2)Raise the entry-level pa for teachers to at least $65000/year. People keep saying "we need to attract the "best and brightest" to teaching!!" That's easy - pay more, and you get more applicants, and a more diverse set of applicants. There ya go, supply-siders!! A sop to you all!
3)Extend the school day one hour and make that hour an enrichment period for the arts. Talk about a low cost way to help students, and their communities.

So let's do it. Wouldn't cost much either. WAY less than those Wall St. bonuses each year.

Of course, I am assuming a lot here. Such as that our politicial leaders REALLY want to help schools.

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

And just so it does not appear that I am a paragon of negativity, i here offer some simple, yet effective measures which would actually help scools, students, and teachers:
1)limit class size, at all levels, to 15 students per class. Even (especially?) in the secondary schools.
2)Raise the entry-level pa for teachers to at least $65000/year. People keep saying "we need to attract the "best and brightest" to teaching!!" That's easy - pay more, and you get more applicants, and a more diverse set of applicants. There ya go, supply-siders!! A sop to you all!
3)Extend the school day one hour and make that hour an enrichment period for the arts. Talk about a low cost way to help students, and their communities.

So let's do it. Wouldn't cost much either. WAY less than those Wall St. bonuses each year.

Of course, I am assuming a lot here. Such as that our politicial leaders REALLY want to help schools.

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

And just so it does not appear that I am a paragon of negativity, i here offer some simple, yet effective measures which would actually help scools, students, and teachers:
1)limit class size, at all levels, to 15 students per class. Even (especially?) in the secondary schools.
2)Raise the entry-level pay for teachers to at least $65000/year. People keep saying "we need to attract the "best and brightest" to teaching!!" That's easy - pay more, and you get more applicants, and a more diverse set of applicants. There ya go, supply-siders!! A sop to you all! That "best and brightest" comment is also incredibly insulting to teachers.

3)Extend the school day one hour and make that hour an enrichment period for the arts. Talk about a low cost way to help students, and their communities.

So let's do it. Wouldn't cost much either. WAY less than those Wall St. bonuses each year.

Of course, I am assuming a lot here. Such as that our politicial leaders REALLY want to help schools.

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Last week on the AJC's Get Schooled Blog, the blog moderator stated that she would rather have a TFA, as opposed to a veteran teacher, in the classroom for two years if that meant higher test scores. It really didn't bother her that experienced teachers remain in the building. Her comments were in response to the Tennessee TFA study.

While working on a graduate degree, I made the decision to no longer allow test scores to define my teaching. Every year I hone my teaching skills through reflective practice and my own data. I do not need standardized test scores to gauge how well my students are learning. When my end-of-course-test scores arrive, they are simply an expensive confirmation of what I've already determined through my own assessments.

Posted by: teachermom3 | December 23, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Major LA Times article on improving test scores - spinning more qualified teachers make a difference: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-teachers-turnaround-20101222,0,4340403.story. However, it was merely laying off new teachers and replacing them with slightly more experienced ones that made the difference. In effect, a great experiment in favor for some seniority and against TFA.

Posted by: OrangeMath | December 23, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

*Sigh* One would think that for all of the supposed intelligence in this country, we wouldn't be having these insane arguments about experience, testing and teacher newbies.

NEW, YOUNG teachers represent new blood, new ideas, new energy; BUT

EXPERIENCE is important.....and not
just for test results;
1) who maintains the structure when the people just 'trying out teaching' for a year or two or three leave?
2) what about the experienced teacher that
knows there is a lot more going on with a troubled kid than a few points off a test..., the signs of abuse, of disabilities, drugs & alcohol, of malnutrition.....of possible mental illness....no one develops these insights overnight, and it is usually the experienced staff that is able to pick up on these cues.
3) For older students, both parents and
students need veteran teachers who can help in the college/career preparation progress....who else knows the students well enough to write recommendations or have the life experience to see down the various roads the student may opt for?

TESTING...of course some testing is necessary....the questions are how much and for what purposes?

And in terms of obtaining 'great' teachers, one of the best quotes on the subject I've heard came from a 'great' teacher:
"I didn't start out a great teacher; I became one."...........experience? Duh......

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 23, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Look, everyone is getting really complicated about this. I've been teaching for 15 years. The bottom line is that more experience DOES equal a higher level of insight and teaching quality. Yes, yes you are going to have weaker teachers than others, just like you have weaker professionals compared to others in all areas of work. Statements have been made that if only the bottom 5% of teachers were removed, then somehow that would eliminate the dropout problem, or "fix" our economic competitiveness (research? I think not.). That's just BS. I can argue that if we just got rid of the top 1% of abusive corporate CEO's, then perhaps the employment rate would skyrocket and we wouldn't be in this mess to begin with. But of course, those in power don't want to face that truth; they would rather blame it on teachers. The simple fact is that over 25% of our children are in poverty, and the majority of the low scoring students on the NAEP and international studies are those children. And the majority of the dropouts are those same types of students. The real answer to helping these children, as Dr. Stephen Krashen has written: access to books, having qualified school librarians, and food security. The relationships teachers make with their kids often helps with the actual instruction, and the most experienced teachers know how to do this. Suggesting that a six week course at Teach for America is going to produce great teachers is nonsense, and it only underscores this fact: private industry will do whatever it can to open up the education marketplace for profit. Less experienced teachers=lower salaries= lower benefits to cover= higher profit margin. Over the lat ten years, semi private charter schools have increased from 1,000 to 10,000, based often on the new market tax credits available for hedge fund managers that invest in areas of high poverty. This is REALLY about turning public moneys into private capital. And anyway these very powerful folks, like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, or the Walton Family, can turn the public's attention away from their real agenda by using false premises, is good for their bottom line. They scream injustice when they are the producers of that injustice.

The classroom is in an of itself a lab of experimentation. The more years one has behind oneself in the class, the better one becomes as an expert in teaching, not the other way around. Look at ANY profession, and this is true. Teachers are being scape goated for the purposes of destroying a public good for corporate greed.

Posted by: jlucido | December 23, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

leonie1,

Can you post a link to your article. Thanks!

Posted by: jlp19 | December 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

leonie1,

Can you post a link to your article. Thanks!

Posted by: jlp19 | December 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

leonie1,

Can you post a link to your article. Thanks!

Posted by: jlp19 | December 23, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

If tests don't show the link, what is the proof of teacher impact on education? Quite a few teachers here, in the District, shun any responsibility for accomplishing any part of education in the classroom. And the results of public education are, to be polite, not good in many cases. What are District citizens paying for DCPS to do?

Posted by: axolotl | December 23, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Standardized Exams do not show the link because they arer mostly unrelated to the curriculum, the reason for this is that the exams are created by "professional testing" companies in some other state who have NEVER set foot in my classroom, and most likely have never been in a classroom, period. The only valid assessments are those created by the teacher or professor who is conducting the class. If you want proof of "teacher impact", a specious term at best, visit classrooms and see for yourself whether the assessments match what is taught.

Another thought - check out the exclusive private preparatory schools and ask which standardized "testing company" they use. In most instances one will find that these academies do not participate in such lunacy, because they do not have to. SO why should public schools be constantly subjected to such abuse?

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Dr Spector, the question was about testing - good or bad. Seems I found your button!

Posted by: jbeeler | December 23, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

was = wasn't

Posted by: jbeeler | December 23, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonie-haimson/post_1315_b_788994.html

This is a link to leonie1's article.

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 23, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

OK, jbeeler, here's the answer to your question = testing: good or bad?

Testing = BAD

I have a great many buttons when it comes to education. ;-)

Posted by: DrSpector | December 23, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

If you think the tests have anything to do with the curriculum, take a look at the Texas Social Studies TAKS Test. In 10th grade, the kids are supposed to be studying World History in Texas, yet the 10th grade TAKS can cover Texas, U.S., and World History. Economics and Civics. U.S. and World Geography....so you tell me, who gets the blame when the kid fails the 10th grade exam? The 10th grade World History teacher....So now do you understand why they have to "Teach the Test" instead of the curriculum?

Posted by: ohiggins51 | December 26, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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