Chicago Teachers, Eisenhower, and Lincoln

President Dwight David Eisenhower (34th USA President, 1953- 1961) believed in The Declaration of Independence’s ideal that every person has the inalienable right to pursue happiness. He tried, with much success, to create a climate during his presidential years in which Americans could fully exercise that right.

He kept the peace managing a number of crises where his advisors and critics insisted on some military action. He managed each one without overreacting, without going to war, without increasing defense spending, and without frightening the public. During Eisenhower’s administration, the U.S.A never lost a soldier or a foot of ground.

If the criterion for success as a great president would be keeping the United States out of war, he would rank among the greatest. By contrast, using this same criterion, Abraham Lincoln would be considered one of the worst.

Using this criterion is preposterous!

Today, many school districts are using the wrong criteria to evaluate teachers and student learning. Chicago (and the entire State of Illinois), the Los Angeles Unified School District, and other jurisdictions have mandated that standardized test scores be used in teacher evaluations. This is one of the core reasons for the Chicago Teachers Strike.

Here’s why the criterion of using standardized test scores in teacher evaluations is just as preposterous as the Eisenhower/Lincoln example. Standardized tests have proven to measure information other that what is taught (read socio-economic level). They do not align themselves to the local curriculum. Also, if too many test takers answer a particular question correctly, then that question will not be included because the question does not discriminate enough. Standardized tests are designed to create a bell shaped curve.

Learning should be assessed where the same students would be tested about what they know at the beginning of the school year and then what they have learned at the end of the year. Standardized tests are neither valid nor reliable in this regard. In addition, with the transiency of so many students, especially in low socio-economic areas, many students tested at the end of the school year are not the same ones who were in the class at the beginning of the school year or were in class for the entire year.

Attempts to measure the success of a teacher using standardized tests is as unjustifiable as measuring the greatness of Ike against Lincoln using the criterion of who best kept the United States from war.