Imagine going to a physician and he indicates that you have to change your lifestyle because your numbers, based on a variety of tests, are not good. He prescribes a different diet, some medication, and a lifestyle that emphasizes physical activity and eliminates self-destructive behavior. He also wants to see you in three weeks to check on your progress.

You leave the office and fall into the your usual behavior of eating the wrong foods and not exercising, in addition to missing the next two appointments. When you do go back to the physician’s office, your “test” numbers have not improved and in fact have gotten worse.

You made little or no effort to comply with the physician’s instructions and, in effect, have jeopardized your health. There has been no “value-added” improvement. Whose fault is this? Should the physician lose his or her job?

In many schools across the country, the fault would rest with the teacher.  If students and parents do not follow through on assignments, deadlines, attendance, or commitment, it becomes the teacher’s fault. Students and parents are off the hook. It’s as if students and parents have no responsibility for educational outcomes.

 At a time when we all want high-quality education, politicians and bureaucrats are chasing simplistic and untested answers to improve teaching and learning. States “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

On the surface, it seems simple. Test children to see if teachers were effective. But, there are questions you have to ask about this initiative.

  • Are the tests valid and reliable measures of student achievement?
  • In analyzing the scores, who is included? Are students who were not in the class for the entire process included in the data? What about special education students?
  • Are the achievement comparisons made by a cohort analysis of students who participated in the entire program?
  • What about transients? Some teachers face a continually changing student class load. Are teachers responsible for the achievement level of students who did not participate in the entire process?
  • What about teachers whose areas are not specifically tested — fine arts, physical education, foreign language, or social studies? How will they be assessed?
  • Does the culture and climate of the entire school affect the classroom, instruction, and achievement?
  • What about the research on “value-added” assessments? Are these instruments reliable, producing consistent results over time?
  • What about the role of principals and superintendents? Are they culpable for the lack of student achievement based on test metrics?

Teaching is not simply implementing a recipe. It is not just “doing” and implementing. Teaching is more than that. It has to do with teachers and students “being” together in a creative and stimulating process.

Simplistic reliance on tests coupled with complicated rubrics can have devastating impacts. Who would want to work in a profession where you are held accountable for factors out of your control? Are creative and innovative people going to enter a profession that is perceived to be a technocratic activity, rather than a professional obligation?

Yet, we want smart, creative, and engaging teachers, as long as they paint by the numbers. Make sense to you? Is there another way?