Unintended Consequences of School Testing: How Teachers Are Assigned to Grades

If there is a truism in our metric-driven world, it’s that people will game the metrics when their livelihoods depend on it. One example is when teachers who are less prepared are assigned to earlier grades that are not exposed to standardized testing–and who can’t drag school scores down (boldface mine):

North Carolina invested heavily in early education during the years covered by the study. Fuller and Ladd looked at standardized test data from both NCLB reporting and North Carolina’s pre-NCLB statewide accountability program, called the ABCs. The researchers found that K-2nd grade teacher quality, measured in terms of teachers’ scores on licensing exams, fell short of teacher quality in the later elementary grades in all the years studied, not just in the years after accountability testing. Beginning in 2003, however, this shortfall became statistically significantly larger than it had in the past — an indicator that the sanctions threatened by No Child Left Behind led principals to strategically assign their best teachers to the later grades, in order to raise test scores.

There’s a real cost to this:

The practice of assigning the most effective teachers to the later elementary grades is of particular concern because gains made by children in high-quality preschool programs tend to “fade out” during the early elementary school years if children do not receive effective instruction during kindergarten, first and second grades.

Clearly, teachers unions are to blame for this. It never seems to occur to ‘reformers’ that using the same incentives that work on Wall Street might not be how one should try to influence people who are in charge of early childhood development.

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