Letter: Test emphasis may be harmful

A report released in January by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that “heavily weighting a single measure may incentivize teachers to focus too narrowly on a single aspect of effective teaching, and neglect its other important aspects.” The report went on to say that “if the goal is for students to meet a broader set of learning objectives than are measured by a state’s tests, then too-heavily weighting that test could make it harder to identify teachers who are producing other valued outcomes” (http://metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf).

The three-year study, which looked at student performance in 3,000 classrooms across seven states, found that the greater the emphasis placed on a single test, the higher the students scored on those tests and the lower they scored on other, higher-order assessments.

The report said another report, titled “Gathering Feedback for Teaching,” found that “equally weighting three measures, including achievement gains, did a better job predicting teachers’ success (across several student outcomes) than teachers’ years of experience and masters’ degrees, but that work did not attempt to determine optimal weights for composite measures.”

The report did, however, look at four different ways of rating teacher performance and student outcomes, and found that rating student achievement at 33 percent, teacher observations at 33 percent and other measures, including student surveys at 33 percent, provided strong correlation with state tests. More importantly, it increased performance of students on other higher order assessments, and significantly increased the reliability of teacher performance scores.

The Louisiana Legislature and State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education need to look closely at the way they are using the LEAP, iLEAP, ACT and End of Course tests to limit the harm they may be doing to students in our state.

Wayne Free, assistant executive director

Louisiana Association of Educators

Baton Rouge