THE BLOG

3TK (Testing Teachers by Testing Kids) Is an Awful Idea

05/26/2011 01:43 pm ET | Updated Jul 26, 2011

The New York Times reports that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) is developing 16 new standardized tests whose main purpose will be to grade teachers rather than the students who are actually taking the tests.

"Elementary school students would most likely take at least one or two additional tests every year, beginning in the third grade. High school students could take up to eight additional tests a year."

The tests will be used to satisfy requirements that allowed New York State to secure $700 million in federal Race to the Top money. Under a new state the law, 40 percent of a teacher's performance will be based on student performance on standardized tests or other "rigorous, comparable" measures.

Most New York State districts will not create their own standardized tests because it is too expensive and will eat up a lot of the Race to the Top money. However, the New York City DOE plans to spend one-quarter of its $256 million share of the federal money, approximately $64 million creating new tests. Testing teachers by testing kids (3TK) is an awful idea for many reasons.

1. 3TK is part of the Bloomberg administrations campaign to blame the teachers and the teachers' union for student performance rather than improve the schools and address the underlying causes of poor performance -- poverty, displacement, lack of language skills, and stresses on families. 3TK is a cheap solution to major social problems that will not work.

2. When teachers know their jobs depend on student test scores, all they will do is prep kids for tests. It is a matter of survival. School becomes oppressive and boring. Reading and writing are chores not pleasures. Whether the learning sticks and travels with students to the next grade or is transferable to other topics is not their problem. That will be addressed by the teacher in the next grade who has to worry about getting fired.

3. The validity of tests themselves has been challenged. Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University recently analyzed claims made for the reliability of testing students as a way of evaluating teachers. The bottom line, according to Baker: "We technocrats have started to fall for our own contorted logic - that the available metric is the true measure - and the quality of all else can only be evaluated against that measure." He accused academics and school administrators of succumbing to political fashions because it is not clear that the tests actually provide us with any type of reliable information about student learning.

4. The real beneficiaries of the 3TK testing craze will be educational publishing and computer companies. They will sell school systems the full package of textbooks, classroom displays, individualized instructional programs, and standardized assessments that are seamlessly integrated, but only measure each other and not what students understand about the world.

Testing teachers by testing kids (3TK) is a disaster waiting to hit a classroom near you. In the early 1980s I taught social studies at Charles E. Hughes High School in Manhattan. Our students were mostly poorly performing. One semester a drug dealer set up business during the change of periods in a stairwell near my room. Students told me about it and every period I went into the stairwell to disrupt sales until he finally moved to a new location. But if 3TK had been in place, he could have simply disrupted my classroom on testing days, student scores would have plummeted, I would have been fired, and he would have been free to pursue his business interests.

Based on my experience as a high school teacher, I can just image how the movie version of 3Tk will play out.

Scene one is a press conference. A sinister Mayor Bloomgarden played by Danny DeVito announces his new program to test teachers by testingtheir students and using the test result to hire and fire. Bloomgarden tells reporters "This is the final answer. This plan will save our city's schools." A timid young female reporter played by Amy Adams raises her hand and quietly asks the mayor to explain exactly how the plan will work. Bloomgarden's tall mean looking Press Secretary played by Glen Close steps to the microphone and announces that there will no questions at this time. At that point Bloomgarden and Press Secretary stomp off the stage.

In scene two the young reporter is sobbing. The camera zooms on a letter she is reading. It is a dismissal notice.

In scene three two new teacher candidates report to the principal's office in the Bernie Madoff High School for Entrepreneurship and Criminal Behavior. Mr. Gosling is played by Ryan Gosling and Mr. Jackson is played by Samuel L. Jackson. They are second career recruits who always really wanted to be math teacher in dysfunctional inner city high schools. Principal Kutcher is played by Ashton Kutcher. He is very friendly but lacks gravitas and does not appear to know which end is up.

Bernie Madoff High School for Entrepreneurship and Criminal Behavior is actually run by an ethnically diverse triad of tough looking drug dealers played by Jaden Smith, Justin Beiber, and David Archuleta (from American Idol). After they are hired, Jackson and Gosling team up and vow to clean up the school. They instantly become great teachers despite having no training and without knowing very much math. Two of their protégés, teenage girls played by Raven Symone and Naya Rivera, will be accepted by Harvard if they can just pass the next city-wide standardized math test.

The drug triad learns that the math test is really being used to evaluate teachers and not students. They decide to "convince" students to fail the test to get rid of the teachers who are plaguing them and cutting into their profits. The girls played by Raven and Naya resist their pressure but on the day of the test they disappear. The other students, who all love Jackson and Gosling, panic and fail the test on purpose. As a result, the school is rated "D" and Jackson and Gosling are removed as unsatisfactory.

In the final scene the drug triad is meeting to divide up the profits. The character played by Jaden Smith says, "Gosling and Jackson had to go. They did not understand the schools mission statement. After all, this is the high school for entrepreneurship and criminal behavior. Nothing personal. This was just business."

Anybody who wonders how 3tK (testing teachers by testing kids) will work out should remember the immortal words of Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."