In this heated debate, however, it is important not to lose sight of Goodhart’s Law. Most of these studies measured the impact of test scores when tests carried little weight for teachers’ future careers. But what happens when tests determine whether a teacher gets a bonus or keeps his or her job?
Fraud is not the only concern. In one study, schools forced to improve grades by the No Child Left Behind law were found to have focused on helping children who were at the cusp of proficiency. They had no incentive to address those comfortably above the cut or those with little hope of gaining enough in the short term.
A survey of teachers at a school district in the Southwest that awarded bonuses based on test scores found that many tried to avoid both gifted students and those not yet proficient in English whose grades were tough to improve. Others employed “drill and kill” strategies to ensure their students nailed the tests.
Whether it’s screwed up teacher evaluation metrics or assessing teachers based on students they haven’t taught (not making that up), it’s safe to say that the implementation of reform as it exists–not some magical non-existent reform movement existing only in pundits’ heads–is really screwed up. We give teachers–who are human just like the rest of us–a perverse set of incentives and then wonder why parents and students (not to mention many of those same teachers) are really angry. It’s simple: education reform rhetoric has nothing to do with reality. In many ways, it’s analogous to the ‘liberal hawks’ who foolishly believed that Bush et alia would fight wars and manage occupations the way the liberal hawks fantasized, when all of the Bush Administration’s actions to that point put the lie to that foolish, naive belief.
I would love to see curricular and pedagogical changes and improvements, but the reform movement, with rare exceptions, isn’t about that. Reformers, who in many places, have been given wide latitude, and they have constructed a giant pile of idiotic malincentives and nonsensical policies.
But there are always useful idiots willing to double down on stupid. Too bad for the kids.