The Science of Making Up Stuff

I took a deep, cleansing yoga breath and watched some panel of puny pontificators, who have never stepped in front of a class of 36 hormonally-challenged 7th grade unconscientious objectors to homework, sanctimoniously agree amongst themselves that the only problem with schools these days is: Bad Teachers.

Good Teachers have no problems. So. When there were problems, it must because of: Bad Teachers. I took another yoga breath, threw a pillow at the TV and screamed my best ten potty words.  Namaste.

Schools are the current topic of conversation because it’s time to reauthorize the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides modest federal education funding for children disadvantaged by poverty, discrimination, disability and language barriers.  A Good Thing.

When last reauthorized, it was rebaptized “No Child Left Behind.” Not a Good Thing for many reasons, the least of which is that it mandates what competent researchers have found to be Highly Stupid Tests.

No Child Left Behind demanded simplicity. All 666 regulation-packed pages of it. It simply demands states set some cut score on some standardized test, declare that that score measures something they must call “proficiency” without any pesky evidence that it means any such thing, then name, blame and shame a school that doesn’t meet its quota of children hitting the cut score, labeling the entire school as failing “Adequate Yearly Progress”, again inventing a term that sounds extremely scientific, objective and quantifiable but which, in fact, means Diddily Poop.

(“Diddily Poop”, coincidentally, being a term which has precisely the same scientific, objective and quantifiable research base as the term “Adequate Yearly Progress”.)

There is a lucrative science that undergirds No Child Left known in academic circles as: Making Things Up. It makes up that a standardized test is actually designed to measure “proficiency” or whether a school is actually failing or succeeding in making “adequate progress”.

America’s most dedicated educators have been praying mightily for an end to the hell of false labels and the testing tail wagging the dog-and-pony show that now passes as teaching and learning in schools where administrators are forced to bundle toxic testing strategies worthy of Lehman Brothers in their efforts to be accountable–not to the kids, but to hitting their numbers.

Good Teachers know the difference.  We have continued to teach in spite of No Child Left.

I am a good teacher. I designed challenging lessons and because kids learn in different ways, they would sing and smell and taste the lesson. I stayed after school with them. I gave them essay tests and spelling tests and science projects and book reports. I called parents when there was a problem, but more often when their child had done something amazing. We hugged and laughed and I listened to them because what they had to say was important, whether it was important to a cut score. Or. Not.

I’m good. So I’m mad. Now that it’s time to fix the current abuse of using a child’s standardized test to label an entire school, there’s a move to use a cut score to label an individual teacher.

To do this, of course, they have to Make Stuff Up since there is no pyschometrician, analyst or sober test manufacturer who has ever found evidence that a child’s test is a valid assessment of a teacher. In my class, one student might get an A and another might get an F.  Does that make me a C teacher? Well, good teacher evaluation is complicated. Best keep it simple and Make Stuff Up:

Start by using words that sound swell, even though there is no science to defend their use.  How about “Effective” teachers?

Pitch:  Effective Teachers’ kids have high test scores. Ineffective Teachers’ kids have low test scores.  Simple to know who gets the prize. And who gets fired. Pundits can phone this one in.

Simplicity passed last time on a bipartisan vote. But not this time. It’s the best teachers who will rebel against more Making Stuff Up. Because there are problems. Because the old ways aren’t working for all kids.  Because we can be better. But only if we stop Making Stuff Up.

We need real data–not to label, but to analyze. We need to study how some schools in the most dangerous, poverty stricken neighborhoods turned their students lives towards something better.

(Hint: They didn’t pay for test scores, privatize or fire the staff.)

To ratchet up the misuse of tests gets in the way of what might really help our students. Good teachers, are not going to let that happen. Not again.

38 Responses to “The Science of Making Up Stuff”

  1. meg peterson

    This is the best article I have seen that addresses the issues that face American schools today! Testing is only one of the ways to look at the progress students are making. Not all students are alike and its not possible to assess them on one critiera alone. Teachers cant be the “scapegoat” for all the problems in public education, where are the other pieces to the puzzle for accountablity, parents, lawmakers and funding?

  2. Nicole S.

    Right on! It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many politicians who don’t want to look at the research. They just want something that sounds like progress to the folks back home. Instead of labeling or blaming teachers, why don’t we try supporting them? That would be REAL progress.

  3. mike

    I don’t mean to detract from your point, and I would say it is a good one, but how does one effectively evaluate a teacher if not by the established guidelines for what makes a good student? I believe I understand your point, not all children do well sitting at a desk with a pencil regurgitating in part arbitrary factoids. I get that. You can’t label a brilliant kid who just hates testing as a failure. I totally agree. We’re pushing our assumptions further and further without having evaluated them enough, agreed. But how do you get bad teachers out of schools? Our current system for this is horrid. It would be great to propose some worthwhile legislation to get this change. Perhaps circulate a petition after. Have you ever tried taking this kind of action? It’s obviously a big issue with you (understandably so), and you’ve given it some great thought(!), so it’d be great to put those thoughts into action and see where it goes.

  4. David B.

    Lily, I feel your frustration, but you don’t address the sources of this backlash. It didn’t come out of nowhere. People have seen the teachers’ unions block attempt after attempt at making the profession of teaching actually be accountable for performance like… every other job on earth. They’ve seen molestors be “rubber-roomed” (at best!) and continue to be paid.

    My Dad was a Bad Teacher. I was never his student, but I heard his stories growing up. Basically he taught what he’d learned in college for 30 years, never changing to suit the times or the kids. His school’s only measure of his success was attendance (because that’s what the $$ were based on). So what did he do? Showed more videos (in his English Literature class), because no one in administration cared if the kids learned.

    Administrative failure? Sure! Incentive failure? Definitely! Bad teaching? Yep.

    Right now what I see in this post reminds me of the Republicans complaining about the Health Care Bill. “Let’s start over, we have ideas, what you have won’t work!” When they had the chance, they didn’t do anything. They don’t have any concrete proposals for how to revamp the system, they just want to say what won’t work.

    If you agree that teaching should actually be a profession and not an isolated tenure-protected exempt-from-scrutiny position, then you need to suggest how we SHOULD evaluate teacher performance. Because, like in EVERY other job, poorly performing teachers should be fired!

  5. boyhowdy

    David B. must not have read the whole article, and/or he had bad teachers…because a) it is clear that this article is not designed to present a rubric for how to evaluate a good teacher, nor does it need to do so to make its point, b) it calls for exactly the data (how good teachers and good schools have worked, in ways that are “hard” – i.e. evaluable) that David does, and c) I can easily find the suggestion of what a good teacher is – and, by implication, what we can use to evaluate teachers – in the above article.

    A hint for that last one: start with the author’s description of himself, and then evaluate teachers based on: do their lessons use multiple ways to address the same subject to reach multiple learners? Do they go above and beyond? Do they work directly with parents? Do they offer both positive and negative feedback on a regular basis? None of that has to do with test scores; all is easily measured, and absolutely indicate excellence.

  6. Shaun Johnson, PhD

    A free education podcast called At the Chalk Face. Download for free on iTunes, a new episode each week.

    Love the arguments here, by the way.

  7. Tara

    Like other commenters, I would look to know if you have a solution for this issue. I agree that the standardized tests are a terrible metric, but what would be a good metric? I am a parent, and I have a job where I have to meet certain performance expectations to keep my job or advance to the next level. At my kid’s school, lifetime tenure is given automatically after two years of employment, and after that there is no accountability at all – a teacher would literally have to break the law in some way to be fired. The principal is great, but her hands are completely ties by the union rules. Something has to give!

  8. Rachael

    There does need to be some sort of way to evaluate teacher performance, but I think standardized test scores definitely aren’t it. Using standardized tests presumes that the teachers are operating in some sort of vacuum, and that the ability of the students (or their willingness to learn, or their background, or how much support they get from their parents/community, etc) has absolutely no bearing on their absorption of what the teacher’s trying to teach them. There are good students that succeed in spite of bad teachers and bad students who fail in spite of good teachers, and if a kid comes in to school with a poor attitude and no encouragement from home and no desire to do more than squeak by until they can drop out, I frankly think it’s unreasonable to punish a teacher and potentially end their career because of it.

    I also tend to think that having everything ride on standardized test scores would, at best, show you how good a teacher is at teaching the standardized test. You’re not doing the kids any favors if all of the incentive for teachers and schools is on teaching the test and not actually preparing the kids of higher education or life in the real world.

  9. Chris

    Lily, I feel for you. It sounds like you care, and I think that’s the basis for being good at anything.

    To answer the last “question” in your post: They gave parents a choice, which opened up competition, which is a proven way to improve performance. They’re called “Charter Schools”.

  10. palinode

    Why are there two comments out of only seven complaining about unions? Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I find it a little bit on-message. Also, I’m skeptical about a school that gives “lifetime tenure” after two years of employment. I have a mistrust of arguments that avoid the issue and point to some poorly defined bad guy. It’s like someone screaming “Look behind you!” and running like hell when you turn your head.

    But that is beside the point and has nothing to do with the problems involved in No Child Left Behind, which refocuses education priorities away from children and onto hitting an arbitrary mark derived from content-free ideas. Here’s a slightly facetious comparison. What if you had a pet, and you decided that your pet-feeding strategy relied not on the health of your pet, but on the best possible pet food expenditure, combined with some reasonable-sounding indicator like the pet’s weight? That sounds fine, until you consider that a pet’s weight may be a terrible indicator, and the cheaper pet food will pack on pounds but supply little in the way of nutrition. The problem is that the strategy refers to numbers and expenditures but factors out the actual needs of your pet.

    This is just an analogy, obviously, and the situation is more complex and greater in scope than cats and dogs. But you wouldn’t treat your pets that way. So why would you do that to your child?

  11. Jeff

    We’re struggling with similar metrics in the Netherlands. It’s not as out-of-control as in the States, but it’s getting worse. Schools get money from the government based on how many pupils they have. Parents send their kids to schools which have the best exam results. And, better still, the results are measured not on the highest scores, but on whether or not they did as well as was expected of them.

    So if, say, a kid comes in and he already knows he wants to become a plumber and he’s really handy and doesn’t want to learn three languages and go to university then you can expect he’ll do the minimum four years then go to a practical training college to learn a trade. That’s what the primary school knew and predicted, that’s what he does – the school did an adequate job. If he suddenly becomes fascinated with physics, stays an extra two years and goes on to higher education – the school did a better job and get a gold star. This is on the annual national report. Every parent sends their kids there, all the teachers keep their jobs. Hurrah!

    Except… primary schools also get judged not only on how well their kids do in their year 8 exam (fair enough) BUT ALSO on the ‘predicted secondary education qualification’ they send little Jan or Janneke out the door with. And that causes problems. For them to stay in business they basically have to say that all their little kids are headed for university. The parents read the stats and think this is one magical primary school. The secondary school gets thirty kids every year in their highest, most theoretical first year stream, half of whom want to get their hands dirty. The teachers want to do what’s best for the kids and put them in a lower class, the parents argue that they can’t live with the shame if their kid doesn’t go into Higher Education and the poor kid ends up going to five schools in five years.

    “If you won’t do what’s best for him we’ll find a school that will, even if it means moving across the country and taking him away from all his friends. Again.”

    Whereupon, when he finally leaves home, he gets an apprenticeship in a builders yard and spends the next ten years trying to forget how miserable his childhood was while his parents think he’s a failure and are suing the school.

    As if every kid has fully matured in primary school! I know I wasn’t. If there was a way to monitor the pride in their own achievements of graduating students, that might be a worthwhile metric.

  12. Virginia

    Here in Colorado, the ONLY people who seem to be responsible for the test scores are the teachers. Not the students who take the test, but who have no consequences if they bomb the test; not the administration who control what teachers teach and how and when; not the parents who control whether the students study and how well they eat and how much they sleep, and have lots to do with the students’ attitudes about the importance of education. Not the larger community who has the power to give a positive message about education and its value compared to the importance of ,say, football; nope, just the teachers. Bad teachers. Bad teachers.

  13. Amy Diaz Newman

    I am a teacher in an inner city high school. I agree that No Child Left Behind has serious flaws, but it’s shaking up a system that NEEDS to be shaken up. It is pathetic and dangerous for our nation to be graduating seniors who can neither comprehend what they read, express themselves clearly in writing, or do simple arithmetic. You would be SHOCKED at the basic skills most of our in-coming 9th graders are lacking. Teachers have to take some responsibility for this, at the very least for passing kids who were obviously not learning how to read and write. Something has to give. No Child Left Behind has resulted in a lot of fraud, a lot of high pressure testing for kids who are already uncomfortable in an academic environment, and a lot more negatives, but I believe that is has at least broached the idea that there is a basic level of competency that we need our students to reach. Hopefully, it will get tweaked from here. Also, understand that the NCLB system is based on IMPROVEMENT from year to year, not necessarily having everyone magically reach proficiency all at once.

  14. Booked

    Nice article. I agree that it doesn’t attempt to produce evaluative benchmarks, nor does it really need to. There are several comprehensive ways to certify trainers that could be reworked to apply to grade school teachers. That’s an argument for lawmakers though. The point must first be made that the system sucks as is.

    If you make rules that shut down schools or people’s chosen professions, some level of accountability in that process would be needed. I’m not sure I believe policy makers are concerned about that anymore (at least not here in Texas). I think they were hoping NCLB would simplify education and they could move on to simplifying and underfunding other things.

    @boyhowdy Please avoid any comments about how other people didn’t read the article, just b/c you got something else out of it. The “author’s description of himself” is Lily. Nice banner picture, and a link called About Lily. So, glass houses and all that.

  15. Henry

    I am a PhD candidate who’s field of research is mathematics education. Evaluating effective teaching practices is something I do regularly for my research. I do not use student achievement (however you choose to measure that), but instead, assess classroom activities, teacher pedagogical knowledge and application, assessment strategies used, math content knowledge levels, and a host of other criteria that indicate levels of teacher knowledge, beliefs and practices. I am looking at what the teacher knows and does, not what the students know and do. In evaluating teachers, use the appropriate unit of analysis, the teacher.

  16. Justin Runia

    I think I’m in the same camp as a lot of people here when I express agreement that NCLB is gravely flawed, but I’m also at a bit of a loss at the reluctance of teachers to submit themselves to some sort of performance review, be it annual, bi-annual, quarterly, whatever. After all, these same teachers exercise their judgement to grade students, and generally use test scores, attendance, and participation in order to justify those grades. The grades given to students are very real, and will affect the remainder of their academic and professional lives, I would imagine that teachers take that responsibilty very seriously–yet when the notion of a teacher “report card” is proposed, we hear all manner of excuses why those plans can’t possibly work.

    I’m in agreement that standardized testing is not a viable method of judging performance, not only because of the over-generalization of such testing, but also because the students don’t have a lot of “skin in the game”, as it were. I can clearly recollect the reaction of my classmates upon finding out that the annual standardized testing wouldn’t have any effect on their grade; a straight row of “c” bubbles filled out and the remainder of the class period free to mess around and marvel at how clever they were. Appeals to the future funding of their school don’t often dent the bubble of self-regard of your average adolescent. Is there any metric that would work?

  17. Andrew

    Congratulations on being Boinged. Your article will reach a much wider audience. I’ve also posted a link on my Facebook page and will send it out to a number of friends. Being a homeschooler, I don’t have a lot of credit when it comes to criticizing the educational system – people dismiss my opinions as those of an outsider. But when someone like you critiques the system, it carries weight. Thank you for speaking out.

  18. Ian

    What needs to be addressed is the actual #1 cause of student failure. Poverty.

  19. James S

    Reading this article and many of the responses clarifies for me the very real problem facing our public school system: it’s the students, people. It’s not incompetent unionized teachers who are virtually impossible to fire, it’s not an administration heavy system with layers and layers of well paid middle management who were formerly some of the finest teachers, it’s not the fact that even though public school funding has tripled, TRIPLED, after adjusting for inflation since 1965 our student test scores are flat or in decline, no it’s clear to me that the problem is the students. Even with all the above issues, which are very real and need to be addressed, the primary problem is an unmotivated student body that gets little support at home to do well in school; the fact that many students have English as their second language with little family or community support to become English proficient.

  20. Sally

    Great article. I just want to clarify that teachers are evaluated every year. I worked in business for 10 years before becoming a teacher and now have been teaching for ten years. The annual evaluation process is much the same. My supervisor observes my class several times a year, checks my lesson plans from time to time, and reviews my gradebook and parent phone logs, and then writes an evaluation. My extra-curricular activities are documented. If I had an attendance or tardiness problem, that would count against me. If anything, this is a more thorough evaluation than I had as an investment representative.

    Although we do have tenure, every year, teachers who are not fulfilling their obligations are put on performance improvement plans and if they do not improve, they are not asked back for the following year.

  21. Delpha Powell

    Thank you, Lily, for speaking about this. It is an enormous problem and I do not know where to begin. I just finished 2 weeks of testing students in grades 4-6 who needed to be tested one on one. It was heart breaking and honestly at times almost made me physically ill to watch children punch randomly on a calculator trying any operation to come up with a matching answer. Or, I suppose almost worse, not using anything in their bag of tools at all because they decided to guess at every answer. Beyond the flaws of testing, however, is another issue that I have just discovered as an instructional assistant in an elementary school. I was told that I am not allowed, under NCLB rules, to read a story to children without being “within sight and sound of a certified teacher.” My intervention lessons for first graders struggling to read always begin with a story, but it is almost impossible to read to them now because instead of using the empty classroom next to first grade and having a quiet, peaceful place to read and learn our letter sounds, we must do this in the noisy classroom where the distractions are endless. It is these kinds of rules, which come with a fine of $182,000 that threaten a Title I school already struggling to meet AYP. These are the rules that keep these children in poverty from a basic form of education: hearing a story. Where do we begin?

  22. Maya

    Here-here, as a teacher I often try and explain the ridiculous measures and “standards” set up by NCLB, to friends and those who ask me to explain what it really means for their students. This is a wonderful article that sheds some light on the problems, teachers and students face in their quest to become “proficient”. Thank you for being one to speak up!!

  23. Nancy Claspill

    I work at a low income school. Mostly Hispanic. I teach special ed. I have about 3 or 4 students who miss school regularly. Two of them miss 1 to 2 days a week. Parents have many excuses. Most of them not valid. I have made numerous phone calls to the homes. I have made home visits. I notify the admin. regularly. It’s not changing. My students have specific learning handicaps, they speak Spanish at home, some have significant language disabilities in their primary language. And then we are told ‘No Child is to be Left Behind’. It’s the teacher’s fault if these children are not meeting the standard? How stupid are the people who wrote the great No Child Left Behind Act?

  24. Ranjit

    “To do this, of course, they have to Make Stuff Up since there is no pyschometrician, analyst or sober test manufacturer who has ever found evidence that a child’s test is a valid assessment of a teacher. ”

    That is not necessarily true. It is true, that a single test can’t help evaluate the teacher. If, however, a set of standardized tests was used in several subsequent years and in all classes, it is possible to control for the individual capabilities of the child and the maturation of the children, which improves their potential over time.
    Now it is ideed possible to gain an insight into the effect of individual teachers. If all the students of a particular teacher fare significantly worse than the students of other teachers, then there is a good chance that the first teacher is a factor for the lack of achivement of those children.

    With an adequatly elaborate statistical model, it is even possible to discern, whether students of a certain gender or ethnicity do better or worse under specific teachers.

    That is not to say, that the current practice reaches the potential described above. My point is that it is possible to use standardized tests and statistical analysis model to reduce uncertainty. Of course, the consequence of such results must not be direct sanctions for teachers. Instead, such statistical findings should be used to identify teachers that could benefit from additional training and counseling.

    But since teachers are more part of the solution than they are of the problem, much would be won if teachers got the respect they deserve. After all, how can you expect children to respect their teachers, if their parents don’t?

  25. mclaren

    Lily never mentions the underlying reason why standardized prove worthless, so let’s take a crack at that.

    Teacher A gets posted to an inner-city school where kids knife each other in the schoolroom. The kids’ parents are in jail or on welfare and every day the kids have to run a gauntlet of kids no older than they are, all selling crack on the streetcorner and driving SUVs. The tax receipts going to fund this school are far below the norm for the city, so these kids have no pencils and no paper and their classrooms are broken down and there’s no chalk for the blackboards and the textbooks are old and worn out and falling apart. These kids fail miserably on standardized tests. So Teacher A gets labeled a “bad teacher” and fired. Guess what? Pretty soon the inner-city school district can’t get any teachers. Because teachers aren’t stupid, they know if they’re posted to that school, their students will most likely crash and burn on the standardized tests and the teacher will get fired, so why bother? Any teacher with common sense will simply refuse to work in that school district.

    Now let’s take a look at Teacher B. This teacher works at a school where the parents are academics with PhDs or engineers or journalists. These students blow the top out of the standardized tests because their parents create a culture at home where learning gets valued. This teacher gets rated as “exceptional” and receives a bonus. This school district gets the best teachers because all teachers know they’ll get rated as superb no matter what kind of job they do, simply because the students have got highly educated and highly motivated parents to help them out and this school distinct pulls in such hefty property tax money that the school boasts the latest in computer equipment and lab facilities and audiovisual facilities.

    Ring a bell?

    Standardized tests merely reinforce class divisions until we wind up with a society mired in a caste system more rigid than the one Diocletian imposed on Rome circa 100 A.D.

  26. Redd

    In my opinion, the crux of a lot of these issues is that there is a drive to place a set of business standards of evaluation on an educational model. It’s like trying to push a square peg through a round hole. We teachers are held up to standards every day- often very stringent ones. I have never worked in a school where teachers were not measured and weighed in some form or another; even if they aren’t by the administration, they certainly are by their students and parents. Education is always a trendy subject to complain about because everyone remembers how it was done “in my day”, which means that everyone is an expert. If everyone is an expert, then everyone has a solution- the problem is that the vast majority of “everyone” are not teachers. I do not evaluate my financial planner by how well her she can add and subtract- the computer does that. Rather, I evaluate her on how well she takes care of my money- what decisions she makes along the way that helps my savings grow and mature. I evaluate her on the ways that she is able to secure my financial future. I evaluate her on how she helps me accomplish what I aim for. Anyone can add and subtract. But not everyone is a financial advisor. Likewise, anyone can stand in front of a group of students and read a script- anyone can give a standardized test. Not everyone can adapt lessons to students with special needs. Not everyone can keep 13-year olds interested in algebra. Not everyone can inspire children to reach for their dreams. It takes a _teacher_ to do that.

  27. Olga de Santa Anna

    I was teacher for 27 years and then became a principal of a school in year 5 of program improvement.I have been a principal now for eleven years. I have had to evaluate good and bad teachers, because just like, as in all walks of life, some should teach and some should do something else, especially when it comes to teaching our wonderful students, being committed to engaging them in artful teaching and wanting to continuously grow . It takes a certain kind of teacher to teach and to teach students who are impoverished and face adversity every day. Some folks just are not cut out and are not sensitive enough to meet the needs of our students . Some get negative and complain, take things personally and poison those around them with insensitive comments.
    I say all of this because, I feel that yes, NCLB has been a hard road for many educators and schools. It has brought to the surface the need to relate to our socio-economically disadvantaged population and to deal with the facts that in many districts old methods did not work and new ones had to be established. The constant judgement and expectations have been hard on our teachers and our schools.I hear the frustration of my teachers everyday as to the lack of support from parents who don’t come to meetings, or volunteer, or have the money to pay for their students’ things. I get frustrated when I cannot get a child to come to school, when I call CPS or go through the channels to find why they are not in school.I feel badly when I cannot give one of my teachers the answers they want in regards to a child.
    I have the most wonderful group of teachers working in my school. They are dedicated, loving, and committed. They WANT to help our students to learn despite all of the adversity that surrounds our neighborhood and our school. They do look at THEIR DATA and their teaching strategies. They share their successes and are growing from set backs.They just want to teach as best as possible, be supported and see progress. I honored to work with them and to be their principal.

  28. Javagamal

    I don’t mean to nitpick, but I feel compelled to comment on the surprisingly poor quality of writing in your essay. Grammatically speaking, your essay is a nightmare. From the very beginning it is loaded with improper punctuation, fragment sentences, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, etc., and is quite difficult to read. Normally I would gloss over mistakes like these, as they are ubiquitous in the media and to take pause at all of them would make every news cast, magazine article, and blog insurmountable. However, as you are an educator and writing about the quality of education and lack thereof, I find it amazing that your writing style is so remarkably inadequate. What does it say about the quality of our education system when an accomplished educator such as yourself cannot pen a proper essay? I hope you will take my comments as constructive criticism. In fact I think I agree with you in general, but your arguments lose significant power and cohesion by being phrased so poorly. Proofreading for the win!

  29. mclaren

    Of course you mean to nitpick, Javagamal, nitpicking remains the entire focus of your little diatribe. You want to distract us from the content of Lily’s essay by nitpicking its presentation.

    In fact, Lily’s essay qualifies as superb writing. And guess what? Yes indeedy, Lilly writes well…which means that she uses sentence fragments. And run-on sentences. Dangling modifiers. All the rule-breaking a truly excellent writer enjoys, the better to produce prose that sizzles and sparkles.

    But you wouldn’t know anything about good writing, would you? You clearly can’t write your way out of a pay toilet. You haven’t got a ghost of a clue what constitutes good writing. Your prose sticks to the ear like congealed bacon fat, your sentences plod along like spavined knock-kneed hunchbacks, and your inability to slice your thoughts into digestible paragraphs bespeaks the kind of crudely cartoonish amateurishness one seldom encounters outside of fifth graders failing their remedial English classes.

    I find it astounding — but entirely predictable — that your lumpen prose and decerebrated syntax gussies up a rant complaining about (of all things!) bad writing. Your arguments drown with the desperation of rabid paraiah dogs in the rancid cesspool of your prose. Your incessant use of “to be” constructions cripples your already hobbled writing, and your entire post stands as a sinister monument to the inadequacy of our educational system.

    Scrutinizing your fetishistically rulebound yet altogether necrotic prose, we learn a profound lesson in the intellectual bankruptcy of an educational system which values trivial superficialities over genuine excellence. We see in your grotesquely inadequate writing the apotheosis of the ability to follow some made-up textbook grammar rules (which excellent writers systematically ignore) rather than valuing the verve and brio, the panache and elan, of excellent writing like Lily’s.

    For shame, sir. For shame!

  30. Adrienne Pilon

    Thanks, Lily, for this concise and cogent response to the testing obsession.

  31. Erika

    Teachers ARE evaluated. Teachers CAN be fired. There are two problems: 1. administrators are often not trained in how to evaluate and they don’t want to be “the bad guy” and tell a teacher that they don’t “Meet or exceed” on a teaching standard (if they are messing up, teachers need to be told how to improve). 2. The profession is treated so badly that it’s difficult to attract enough people willing to do this kind of work (maybe we could get illegal immigrants to do it for cheap…);being treated as subhumans after getting a minimum of 6 years of university completed, makes for a small and shallow pool of candidates. If you want truly high quality teachers, you need to make it attractive enough that getting the job is competitive and administrators have several candidates from which to choose.

  32. Patrick Crabtree

    As President of the Atlanta Association of Educators, I have take this message to the community. Every where I go, I have my research and ammunition ready. We have to be ready to shoot down the ‘diddly poop.” I am a believer in Edward Deming. Like him, I ask, “What makes a teacher inneffective?” Bad and teacher are not synonynous. We are our own worst enemies. The problem in education is not ‘who’ but rather ‘what.’ If we sit back and whine, we deserve all we get. GET EMPOWERED AND LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! and DON’T do it QUIETLY!

  33. Claire Noonan

    I loved the way state tests are described in this post. Made me laugh. My thing lately after reading many articles about evaluation is that 3 levels of evaluation would give a better picture of why a school is low-performing: look at the school board–is it focusing on student achievement; look at the superintendent–is that person offering advice and following through; and then look at the school principal and teachers–are they working as a collaborative group? Then whatever assessments the students take will improve over time, after a lot of relentless work by the entire school community. A test is only one tool to evaluate a school’s improvement.
    I hope ESEA reform realizes that.

  34. Mark Bushek

    Aren’t we all average teachers by definition? If we grade according to the bell curve, the average student gets a c. Does proficient mean average or is it another symptom of grade inflation?

  35. Sandra

    It has always astonished me that no one ever thinks of treating teachers as if they had common sense, knowledge and experience. As a teacher, I wouldn’t mind being evaluated on my students’ performance if I had time to actually spend teaching and planning. We are expected to do so many things–including clerical ones–that prevent us from having enough time for the important things. I think teachers should teach either morning or afternoon only, have a secretary and an office, be treated as if they are actually professinals by being given respect and responsibility, have class sizes of no more than 15 and have input into how the school is run.

    In my 30 years of teaching, I have seen a cascade of paperwork befall us that intrudes on our goals of teaching. It’s like being in a meeting all day and being unable to do any of the myriad of jobs that keep the classroom going–calling parents, grading papers, etc., etc., etc.

  36. John Morgan

    Not only children should go to schools but parents too! they are miseducating children

  37. An Analysis of Merit-based teacher pay | North Carolina Education Legislation

    […] variables in determining a teacher’s salary is the student population that the teacher instructs. Teachers contend that the performance of students on standardized tests has much less to do with a teacher’s […]


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