As someone who intends to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher, I have been following the News’ recent series of articles about education reform hoping I would see a great change starting to take shape. Although I am very excited to see that reform is moving ahead in the city, I am frightened by some implications of John DeStefano’s plan, especially its emphasis on testing.
The proposed reform sets many ambitious goals, including reducing the dropout rate, eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring all students graduate high school and college. But unless evaluative policies are changed, completion in five years is likely impossible.
DeStefano’s plan to evaluate schools and teachers based on student performance is flawed. In public schools in Texas, for instance, an emphasis on testing improved achievement scores but did not change the number students who failed or dropped out. In addition, a 2005 study showed that teachers responded to the Texas Accountability System by using “educational triage,” — diverting resources based on how likely they thought a student was to pass the test.
It worries me that this system may be implemented in our schools, leading teachers to become so concerned about their jobs that they begin to focus solely on test results. “Teaching to the test” is a prevalent strategy in schools already; telling teachers they are only as good as their student’s scores will just make the problem worse.
I understand that demands on policy makers in education are great, and that the government wants to see immediate results, but emphasizing test scores will take us backward. I hope that when the New Haven team gathers to make more decisions on school reform, they understand the problems of testing so that they may make the best choices for students, teachers and schools.
The writer is a senior in Pierson College.