Phillip Middleton writes:
My wife is a 5th grade teacher, in Texas, in a title I school (free lunch, other subsidies, poor and emotionally disturbed kids, CPS cases, you name it) on the west side of San Antonio. There are a number of things I’ve been exposed to as a result, the net of which tells me that we are ALL (including the effervescent Gates foundation) thinking about how we deploy and measure education incorrectly (though I at least think common core was a fundamental step in the right direction for curriculum).
On the deployment side, there is much ado about “pushing down” curriculum to younger ages. I’m not sure what to think about this as, developmentally speaking, I would think that “social learning” is probably much more acutely important than say, learning integral calculus (parents of the trophy kid phenoms would probably disagree w/ me here). Learning is a VERY messy process, and I wonder whether or not latent benefits of advancing curriculum at an earlier age is even observable in high school/college/vocational matriculation.
Follow from that to the measurement side of education, it’s fairly clear to me that the race to teacher standards and evaluation have somehow obscured understanding of the student. The ‘silver bullet’ measure seems to be standardized test scores, among other things. However given that standardized tests have little/no accountability (think Pearson here – owners of media, curricula, and exams ….and now GED), are we sure we trust that such standard exams pass the ‘do they measure what they intend’ sniff test? My gut tells me no.
So far as I can tell, measures on standard multiple choice examinations, particularly over broad topics, do not consider what the student brings to the table. For a single multiple choice question where there is a “best” answer, “best” is left to interpretation. A “thoughtful” answer may not be one that agrees with a test taking strategy, and may therefore be incorrect (though a response may be incorrect for other reasons), given a question is dichotomized to right/wrong. So by understanding the strategy to take the exam, one may be able to “game” the exam. And there appears to be some evidence that test “gaming” tends to trump more pure application of knowledge on test scores.
If that weren’t the case, Kaplan, Princeton Review, others, wouldn’t find rather large revenue from selling services and products which essentially teach one how to game the test, not necessarily demonstrate learned knowledge. Add into this a student’s SES, cultural upbringing, experiences, etc, and the measurement issue becomes further complicated. So again, do the tests measure what are intended? I’m not a psychometrician or sociologist… so I can only ask the Q.
Now take policy on evaluating teachers using these measures and all sorts of other questions come up. A tool called EVaaS is a SAS (aka $$A$$) product designed to eval teachers….and AFAIK only inputs std test scores. Without understanding local economic, social, and movement dynamics of students (movement – transience in/out of different schools), how are we even sure teachers are being measured justly and national institutes of education aren’t being sold very expensive bills of goods?
Many prominent statisticians including Don Rubin, Howard Wainer, and Jennifer Hill have objected to the excesses of the “value added” movement in education for more than a decade now. I suspect that statisticians are less likely than the usual suspects to fall for the education reform hype. I agree that the whole thing is frustrating, in part because often it seems to be done in the name of statistics. I suppose the analogy would be if, in the name of nutrition, the U.S. government were encouraging us to eat expensive unhealthy foods that made some people a ton of money. Hey, wait a minute . . . !
My own understanding of what works in elementary education is not informed by any research. If it were up to me, I’d be spending more time teaching kids stuff like art, music, sports, and, especially, foreign languages, which they can learn so well as kids, and less time teaching things like science which is so crude at that age. Why not teach kids 5 languages? But evidently this view is not popular in the U.S., so I expect I’m missing something here.