I thought David Brooks' column yesterday on education reform was generally quite good. But he conceded a point to critics of education reform that should not be conceded:
If you orient the system exclusively around a series of multiple choice accountability assessments, you distort it.
If you make tests all-important, you give schools an incentive to drop the subjects that don’t show up on the exams but that help students become fully rounded individuals — like history, poetry, art and sports.
The assumption that schools have had to make tests "all important" has deeply penetrated the debate, but it's not accurate. Different states have different ways of measuring teacher performance. But none of them use student test scores as more than 50% of the measure. Classroom evaluations and other methods account for half or more of the measures everywhere. I've also noticed, anecdotally, that many people assume test measures use a single, blunt scale so that poor children are measured against the same standard as wealthy ones. That's not true, either. Test measures account for socioeconomic status, and measure student improvement over the school year.
Now, this isn't to deny that some schools and teachers over-emphasize a narrow curriculum. But the non-test components of a teacher evaluation method can easily incorporate broader measures of student performance.
It's important to keep in mind that the debate here is not whether tests should be the entire measure of teacher performance, but whether tests ought to count at all.