Matt Damon, Arne Duncan, and Tests in Gym Class

Check out my new column at The Nation on the divisive teacher quality debate.

Teachers (and parents, and Matt Damon) are right to be skeptical of the administration’s testing push. While “standards-based-assessment” doesn’t have to mean that students are sitting for dozens of new bubble tests—there are other ways to “test,” including portfolio-based systems, performance tasks, and presentations—the fact of the matter is that some states and school districts will respond to the incentives of Obama’s Race to the Top program in ways that over-rationalize learning.

Case in point: While reporting from Colorado this past winter, I observed a school district, Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs, that gives pencil-and-paper exams in every subject at every grade level. The second grade physical education exam asked, “Draw a picture of how your hands look while they are catching a ball that is thrown above your head,” and, “What are two rules students can follow so they do not run into others when running around in physical education class?”

The results of this exam, which tested reading, writing, and drawing far more than physical fitness, impacted the gym teacher’s evaluation score and pay.

Arne Duncan is aware that there is a difference between sophisticated student assessment and bad student assessment. That’s why the Department of Education should provide states and districts with much more specific guidelines about best practices in assessment, particularly in non-traditional subjects such as art, music, and physical education. In fact, this would be a great subject for one of the Department’s national conferences, something akin to the event the DOE hosted in Denver in February on union-district partnerships.

Read the whole thing.

One thought on “Matt Damon, Arne Duncan, and Tests in Gym Class

  1. Max Bean


    I completely agree that high-stakes multiple-choice exams are a poor way to evaluate teachers, but I’m skeptical of the possibility of creating student assessments that do provide a means of effectively evaluating teachers. Even with immense resource investment, portfolio and performance assessments cannot be graded in a consistent, reliable manner; even essays and other open response questions present major grading challenges.

    We need to rethink how we evaluate teachers altogether. Looking at student outcomes is the obvious solution, but student outcomes are simply too difficult to measure effectively. We’ll actually get much better and more nuanced information through an observation system. That presents standardization problems as well, of course, but I think they’re easier to overcome than the challenges facing student assessments. The Times reported recently on a teacher evaluation program in Montgomery County, Maryland that looks very promising and does not give test scores any weight at all.



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