"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why More Money for Higher Test Scores Has No Merit

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor. --Donald Campbell
Sam Dillon has a piece in today's NY Times on the cancerous spread of the practice of paying teachers an extra bounty for higher test scores from their students. Unfortunately for Dillon and the rest of us, calling this mis-educational practice "merit pay" adds no merit at all to a pedagogically-poisonous practice, and it does nothing to improve the vast and growing array of commercial and state-generated junk tests that are used each school year to effectively punish the poor and reward everyone else. While the test score bonuses will have the benefit of surely putting more needed dollars into the pockets of teachers who can wring higher scores from their charges, it will also have the effect of lowering the caliber of education, and it will incentivize the transformation of teachers into line foremen who oversee, correct, and cheerlead for daily labor practices that will increase production, i. e., more high test scores.

For those who believe that teacher education is a waste of time and a threat to monocultural values of conservatives, test bounties for teachers will have the added benefit of neutralizing or marginalizing the entire body of credible research and accumulated experience on effective pedagogy, curriculum practices, and performance assessments. Test score bounties for teachers will have the effect of further sharpening the focus on a single abstracted and dessicated outcome that separates students and teachers even further from an involvement in their own learning and growth. If there is an incentive that could have a more alienating, decontextualizing, and mind-numbing effect on what happens in the classroom and the school among teachers and students, I cannot think of it.

As a former librarian, I wonder if bonuses are being planned for library-media teachers based on the number of books they check out to students, regardless of whether students read them or know what they mean. That would be about right.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:26 AM

    I agree that giving teachers merit pay based purely on test scores is dangerous. But I think that school districts are right to try to encourage teachers to put in more hours. Schools want those hours to be effective. Somehow, then, schools have to find a way to pay teachers for putting in extra hours. That's merit pay.