Wednesday, May 7, 2014

One Teacher's Thoughts on Standardized Tests and Teacher Pay

It's May, so its standardized testing time here in Oregon.

The standard line among teachers is we don't like standardized tests.  We complain about having to teach to the test.  We say its not fair to judge us by those tests because our students come from diverse backgrounds, some might have parents who read to them every night, while others might spend every night on a different couch.

All those concerns are valid, but I love standardized tests.

Weird I know.  And I don't teach in some rich suburban school.  I teach at a school where 20% of the kids  speak English as a second language and 57% percent are economically disadvantaged.

I like the challenge standardized tests provide.  I like competing against myself, year after year.  I like looking at a curriculum at the start of the year, and finding the best way to teach it to that unique group of students.  I like teaching my kids something in October, and seeing if I taught it in a sticky enough way that they remember it in May.  Having a standardized test makes me a better teacher.

I also love the idea of performance pay for teachers, based in part on standardized tests (no, not entirely).  Yes, the tests need to be valid.  And yes, we need to measure year-over-year growth and not just the bottom line of who got the highest scores.  Still, performance pay is hearsay in teacher unions.

Teachers are so important.  I believe I'm in the most important profession that exists.  Our Founding Fathers believed we needed to have free public education because a republic can only function with a well-educated citizenry.  And research shows that the largest factor in student growth isn't class size, or technology, or even socio-economic background.  It's teachers!

But we aren't paid based on our teaching ability. At all.  That's because teachers get paid based on
1.)  How long we've been teaching.
2.)  How much schooling we have.

That's it. I could go to school every day and give my kids maps to color and crosswords to fill out (I'm talking to you Freshman geography teacher), and I'll still get a raise next year.   That's insane.

The weird thing is, most a lot of teachers hate the thought of tying pay to test performance in any way.  We always complain about how little we get paid, but mention paying us more for our students performing well, and all the excuses listed above come out.

The thing is, most teachers I know would have nothing to worry about.  To teach right it takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of skill and a lot of art.  Nearly every teacher I know at my school works their tail off.  Drive past my school any given day at 5:00 or 6:00 PM and I bet you'll see a dozen cars or more still in the parking lot.  And that hard work has been reflected with some really amazing growth in our test scores in recent years, which is a source of immense professional pride for me.

And I think that should be rewarded.

Just one teacher's thoughts.

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