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Why Value-Added Assessment & Science Don't Mix

Science Under the Microscope


How does standardized testing, merit pay and all the pressure that comes with them affect science education?


Nearly all students and teachers are familiar with standardized testing. These tests are commonly used to measure the effectiveness of the teacher.  But do these tests use fairness and accuracy to reflect the quality of teaching taking place in the classroom?   

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All the recent fervor about “value-added” measurements and merit pay for teachers has made me think a lot about this impact on science teachers.

The Problem with Testing

The cornerstone of any merit pay system is a standardized way to measure teacher effectiveness. The choice made by most systems is to utilize student test scores for this purpose. This choice is fraught with problems, including the cultural bias inherent in the tests, factors other than instruction that affect those scores, and the simple fact that (usually) only reading and math skills are tested this way. 


How do we judge science teachers' effectiveness if there is no direct link between our teaching and standardized test scores?


The answer to that question is the key to changing the misguided direction of this public discourse. Standardized test scores--even when they are available for a subject area--are not the best way to assess teachers. They don't take into consideration the many factors that can affect a student's learning as much as work of the teacher. They assume that choosing from a simple, scanable list of choices is the best way to take stock of a child's understanding of complex science skills and processes. And, of course, every teacher contributes much more than a simple test score can measure, no matter how accurate.


What Testing Misses

What about modeling lifelong learning for our students? Teaching and demonstrating science ethics? Learning how to recognize bias? Teaching and assessing lab skills? Although these are critical, they are left out of most student assessment systems as well as all teacher performance measures.


Only when we find a way to assess science teacher performance using more authentic student assessment and more comprehensive analysis of educator effectiveness will we be on the right path to assessing all students and all teachers.

How does testing work in your subject? What is a better way to measure student achievement? Share in the comments section!


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