Why our current obsession with high-stakes testing is wrong

Too few Americans recognize that Advanced Placement participation and scores are at all-time highs. Too few Americans celebrate the ability, unheard of only a few decades ago, of children with disabilities to graduate from public schools and function in mainstream society. Too few Americans are aware of the many successes of immigrant students who came to this country speaking no English and from barely literate backgrounds.

AASA, and our school administrator members in every community, pledge ourselves to do a better job of trumpeting these accomplishments, not from a sense of complacency but so that we and the public to which we are responsible can learn from what indeed has worked well, and target school improvement efforts to areas of true weakness and underperformance.

As school administrators, we must do a better job of evaluating our teachers, not for the purpose of punishing or replacing them, but to help them take advantage of research and experience with best practices that improve the performance of all students. We are dismayed by expectations that we reduce this evaluation largely to the examination of student test scores in basic skills of math and reading. We have seen how an increasingly test-obsessed public has led our school systems to narrow their curricula, diminishing attention to many of our important public education goals to devote inordinate attention to test preparation, drill, and an excessively narrow focus on the most mechanical and easiest-to-test math and reading skills.

For more columns from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech, see:

Coming soon: A national superintendent certification program

What U.S. schools can learn from Russia

How to achieve true educational transformation

We will do a better job of explaining to national and state policy makers, as well as to parents and community leaders, that test results are too inaccurate and unstable to play a major role in the identification of effective teachers—and that teachers who are effective in one year, in one curriculum area, and with some students are too often different from teachers who are effective in other years, in other curriculum areas, and with other students.

AASA and its members are working to develop effective teacher evaluation systems that can provide information to help teachers increase student achievement. The primary focus should be on improving teacher quality to raise achievement in all of the curricular areas for which we are responsible.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of Schools Administrators (AASA).

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