As I was driving recently, I heard a commercial on the radio that really grabbed my attention. It was from a real estate organization that was talking about the advantages of owning a home. What grabbed my attention was a statement claiming that children of homeowners score better on standardized tests. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody was using the potential of a child’s success on a standardized test to get people to consider buying houses. Of course, I immediately thought that children of families that didn’t own their home must not be doing as well on these same tests.
At this point during my drive, I tuned out the radio and started thinking about implications of this statement, if in fact it was true. We have been told that the single most influential factor in a child’s education is the teacher. Using that as a sledgehammer statement, many politicians have pushed for connecting teacher assessment to student performance on standardized tests. Of course what now comes immediately to mind is: Are there teachers who have a larger portion of children from families of renters as opposed to homeowners?
What about all the other factors? There are teachers who have students with absences totaling half of a year. Does seat time have an effect on a child’s performance on a standardized test? What about the children from families that are unemployed for any length of time? That must have a negative effect on standardized test performance. What about children of families dependent on food stamps? We know children who are hungry do not perform well at school. Need I even mention children with special needs. If their needs are not addressed in a standardized test, won’t that negatively affect performance? Abused children are another group that may not perform optimally on a standardized test.
Now, if we are to talk about fairness in assessments, when we assess a teacher based on a students’ overall performance on a standardized test we need to ask a question: Do all teachers have these poor performing, albeit for good reason, students in equal portions? Are there teachers with greater numbers of these students in their classes? Are there teachers who have classes without these groups of students represented in the class? When it comes to comparisons we must remember, apples to apples, oranges to oranges and classes to classes.
Yes, the single most influential factor in a child’s education is the teacher. What is left off that statement is that the teacher is not the sole factor in a student’s education. There are hundreds of factors that affect a child’s education that have nothing to do with the teacher. If we are to expect standardized testing to accurately assess students as well as their teachers, we need to first standardize our students.
We need all students to come from safe and healthy homes owned by loving parents. We need all students to be free from physical and emotional challenges. We need all students to be free of racial and cultural prejudices. We need all students to be mentally and physically healthy and sound. Once we have put these standards in place for all students, then standardized tests may begin to approach something that makes sense in assessing teachers for the purpose of standardized education. Be careful of what you wish for!
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.