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NEA's caution on test scores

My colleague Nick Anderson on the national education beat reports that the National Education Association shares many of the views American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten espoused this morning in a speech on teacher evaluation, test scores and discipline.

Still, the largest union seems a bit more cautious, rhetorically and substantively, than the second-largest.

"We have virtually identical policies in many ways," Segun Eubanks, the NEA's director of teacher quality, told Anderson in a telephone interview this afternoon after the AFT leader's speech. "You find a lot of alignment."

Eubanks added: "Clearly, how test scores may or may not be used is a place where many of our affiliates have a significant amount of concern."

It's worth noting that AFT affiliates share some of those concerns.

Eubanks said the NEA is open to discussing experiments in teacher evaluation systems that incorporate student test data as long as the data offer "authentic measures of student learning and student growth" and complement other types of assessment.

But he said that the national union's stance is that using state standardized test scores to make decisions regarding the effectiveness of teachers has yet to be proven effective. "We're not going to embrace something for which there is so little evidence yet," Eubanks said.

With the Obama administration pushing for the use of more data-driven school reform, this discussion is only beginning.

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By Washington Post editors  | January 12, 2010; 5:20 PM ET
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If the NEA does not believe that standardized test scores mean anything, then why does the organization constantly call for homeschoolers to be required to take standardized tests? They can't have it both ways. Either the tests mean something or they don't...

Posted by: CrimsonWife | January 12, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Private schools administer standardized tests; are they as concerned about the results? Is their reputation or integrity as a school at the fate of the test scores? Has the WaPo (Mr. Mathews!) ever investigated this?

I will always contend if a teacher is assessing students appropriately, you don't need standardized tests to tell you what they know and can do. My most adamant contention with our current standardized testing environment is the inherent, implied mistrust of teachers. I test my students against State standards all year, yet we need another 'impartial' test to assess their knowledge and skill? So my tests don't reflect the state standards? I've always considered this an affront to my professionalism.

Posted by: pdfordiii | January 12, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

There are very serious technical issues involved in coming up with a reliable and valid way of measuring a teacher's contribution to student learning, as noted in the consensus view of the National Research Council. As a pratical matter, you need to test twice, once in the fall when the student enters the classroom and once in the spring when she leaves. This means doubling current standardized test burdens -- and that still only enables scores to be used in reading and math teacher evaluation.

Besides the sheer wasted time of all the extra testing (instead of learning), there are the effects of the principal, colleagues, and the school curriculum. All of these can affect test scores above and beyond the contribution of an individual teacher. All the statistical wizardry in the world cannot filter out these added effects, so you will end up dinging good teachers for teaching in bad schools.

I'm sure Weingarten is aware of these technical problems, but she is trying to appear conciliatory to appease critics. But that's playing with fire. Virtually no administrators and certainly no politicos are versed in complex psychometrics, so what we will see if they have their way is stupid teacher accountability systems that will make NCLB look like genius.

Posted by: dz159 | January 12, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

If teacher pay/evaluation is going to include student scores from state tests then student grades need to be included in the equation. If my evaluation of my students is roughly equivalent to a state assessment then I wouldn't have a problem with it.

Since I can't control many factors that impact student achievement (note I use achievement rather than learning) my assessment of students should carry more or equal weight in my evaluation. If time proves that my student evaluations are either inflationary or deflationary then I would learn from that & make adjustments. This would give me the feedback I, my supervisor, students and parents need in order to realistically improve grading and instruction.

The essential problem lies in the fact that school administrators and politicians care little about student grades. Students, parents and most importantly colleges place great weight on them, consequently there is a great divide for teachers in which group we serve. I always vote for kids.

Posted by: SactoKen | January 13, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Here's another problem with standardized test scores: a lot of textbooks do not teach to the standardized tests even if they say they do.

A company called ENI evaluates textbooks that claim to meet state standards to see if they really do. They recently evaluated one textbook I know of that claims to meet state standards. But when they were done evaluating it, according to their measurements it only met 34% of the state standard.

I am wondering if so many of the schools who are not meeting state standards are doing so because they use textbooks that claim to teach to the test, but actually don't.

The problems with standardized tests are so numerous I can't believe the Obama administration supports using them for teacher pay. Honestly, I think with Arne Duncan in place teachers should leave the teaching field and young people should be talked out of going into the field.

Posted by: resc | January 13, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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