The primary purpose of standardized testing, within the present system, is to pro- vide information to people outside of classrooms that will enable them to evaluate the “quality” of a school or school district, and by implication, the teaching staff within each school or district. We do not succeed in achieving even that limited objective. We operate on the assumption that a school with high test scores has better teachers and administrators than schools with lower test scores, yet this may not be the case. We do not utilize pre- and post-test data on a student-by- student and class-by-class basis to see how much growth has been achieved as the result of participation in a specific class or program. We compare one year’s group of students with the next. We conveniently overlook the fact that a school or class may simply have students who are more talented academically than students at another school.
If we are going to use standardized test scores to compare the quality of schools or to evaluate the effectiveness of individual teachers or programs, we should take care to gather and interpret the data properly. Course-specific standardized tests, administered to students before and after they complete a course of study, is the only way to achieve this objective. Average scores on these tests would indicate how much students learned as a result of receiving instruction from a particular teacher, or group of teachers. The data gathered would provide an objective method of assessing each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses. They could also provide teachers with useful information regarding which objectives they are addressing effectively, and which objectives need to be taught by other means. Professional development activities could then be tailored to meet the genuine needs of each teacher.
Narrowly focused professional development activities should be provided for those teachers who need to improve in specific areas of skill or knowledge. Teachers who demonstrate competence should not be required to sit through staff development sessions designed to develop skills they have already developed or provide knowledge that they already possess. For highly skilled teachers the most important form of professional development is time to read and examine resources, construct questions, and reflect. Administrators seem to find it difficult to allow teachers time to engage in these types of activities. Presumably, they believe that teachers can do that sort of thing on their own time, that time spent that way is not really necessary or productive, or that teachers will not utilize their time in an effective manner, if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, some teachers reinforce this belief by wasting much of the time they are given for preparation and professional development. Perhaps they share the belief that time spent in such activities is not important.
Compulsory attendance and a “one-size-fits-all” approach to professional development is no more effective for teachers than those same concepts are with students. We need to do a much better job of identifying which teachers need remedial training and providing training to meet specific deficiencies. Teachers who are truly “professionals” will seek out relevant opportunities for professional growth. They do not need to be compelled to do so.