Standardized tests should rank students by percentile and rate teachers in teams, according to a new policy brief by Derek Neal, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
"I'm very opposed to ever using this [data] to give individual scores for teachers," said Neal, speaking at a Tuesday conference hosted by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.
Educational research like Neal's is appearing as standardized tests have become more important to school funding decisions and play a larger role in the evaluation, hiring and firing of teachers. At least 26 states now mandate teacher reviews that take standardized testing into account. Many education reformers stress the use of data to rate teachers -- but, as Neal noted, these exams are often imperfect. Critics of this development argue that increased focus on tests won't improve student learning if the tests aren’t measuring the right things.
Neal's dissatisfaction with standardized exams derives from their dual use. "You have a test that's being used to measure how the students are performing in a system over time," Neal said. "At the same time, you're taking those test scores and creating performance metrics for the educators."
The two interests undermine each other, Neal said. The characteristics that make tests good at measuring achievement over time -- such as consistent formatting -- also make it easier for teachers to teach to the test, which corrupts the tests' usefulness in measuring the adults' performance in the classroom.