Monday, September 5, 2011

Why test scores should never drive professional development

Here are but a few reasons why test scores should never be used to drive the professional development of teachers:

  • tests were not designed to drive a teacher's teaching or a learner's learning. In other words, we should never treat a test score as synonymous with what was learned or what was taught
  • tests can only measure a subset of the goals of education
  • test scores do not provide a direct or complete measurement of educational achievement
  • tests are incomplete measures, proxies for more comprehensive measures and authentic performance assessments
  • tests are generally very small samples of a very large domain of knowledge and skill.
  • focusing on test scores tend to reduce teacher professional development to "test scores are low, make them go up"
  • a case can be made that measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning, so focusing with laser like precision on what can be measured will by definition encourage teachers to ignore the kinds of things that tests can't assess such as ethics, creativity, sense of humour, empathy, etc
  • the need to evaluate students should never determine curriculum content or pedagogy
  • focusing on the limited and narrow scope of test scores encourages teachers to confuse valuing what we measure with measuring what we value.
  • focusing on test scores encourages teachers to confuse learning and then there happens to be a test with learning because there is a test. We risk making tests the raison d'ĂȘtre for learning.
  • focusing on test scores encourages everyone to see assessment as something done to kids rather than by them.
  • No one assessment, no matter how elaborate, valid or reliable should be used to make important decisions.
Using test scores to drive or guide a teacher's professional development may lead teachers to know more about raising the scores than raising children.


  1. I like your post! Thank you. Yes, reading this made me think of an article in the New York Times this morning when I kept on thinking...'why are some people so obsessed about test scores because that's not what teaching is about?!" Ack...but aside from that point the article was really interesting. Here it is so you can check it out:

  2. I agree with you. There are many teachers fighting to limit / decrease testing, especially high stakes, testing. Too often these tests are being used for the wrong reasons: ranking schools, ranking / rewarding students, even ranking teachers. Tests are being used to identify "failing schools" (no child left behind)
    But here's the challenge: how do teachers argue to eliminate these high stake tests without appearing fearful of accountability in the public / political eye?

    Educators know the reasons why to limit the significance of a test on pro development, but how to explain that to, not a Joe Bower, but to a Joe Blow?

    How have you approached this with parents, Mr. Bower?


    This is an old link but demonstrates the amount of money involved in testing...and it't much more now!

  4. Perhaps your post is decrying the use of once-a-year, standardized, often poorly written, state/province/federally-mandated tests that are used by misguided districts to drive PD.

    However, if you are stating that tests--assessments of student achievement--are invalid starting points for guiding teachers towards improving and adapting their practice to best meet the needs of their students, then I completely disagree with you. If student learning doesn't drive professional development, what should?

  5. If you are talking about all assessments, I disagree. If you are talking about summative tests, I agree. Formative tests are important in so many ways, student growth patterns, teacher planning, and parent involvement. Why test if teachers don't alter their teaching toward the needs of students? Using formative assessments are a great way to alter your teaching to meet student needs.

  6. He's not talking about "assessments.". He is writing about tests. Testing and assessment are very different. You mention formative testing; I call it formative assessments. Yes, formatives are ongoing, and in my classes, they are usually verbal or written--yet brief. They allow me quick snapshots and the student knows that their snapshot, their picture will be taken every day or every other day.


There was an error in this gadget

Follow by Email