Monday, 16 January 2006

Standardised Tests and Teachers' Pay

via Autono Blogger which leads me to Apcampbell reference to an New York Times article: Houston Ties Teachers' Pay to Test Scores.

HOUSTON, Jan. 12 - Over the objections of the teachers' union, the Board of Education here on Thursday unanimously approved the nation's largest merit pay program, which calls for rewarding teachers based on how well their students perform on standardized tests.
The pay incentives are to be based on three components, or "strands."

One will reward teachers based on how much their school's test scores have improved compared with the scores of 40 other schools with similar demographics around the state. Another will compare student progress on the Stanford 10 Achievement test and its Spanish-language equivalent to that of students in similar classrooms in the Houston district. The third measure will be student progress on the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, as compared with that in similar Houston classrooms.

Interesting? I hope that our Howard Government does not know about this!

I came from Hong Kong, with an educational system based on examinations. I, myself, was a victim of the system as I was a late bloomer. I knew how to teach students to score high marks in standardised tests quite early in my teaching career.

Many young boys and girls have passed through my classroom, some very smart and performed very well in public examinations as well as very successful today; others less successful both in public examinations and today's life. BUT, equally important to note is that there are many who were not very good at public examination have become very successful in life and vice verse. Although there seems to be a statistical correlation between public examination results and success in life, however, I would be very foolish to draw the conclusion that public examination results and success in life is a causal relationship. It seems to me that the success factor is not the result, but the attitude.

Linking teachers' reward to standardised test performance is still one more step more remote to determine the success of a student.

The problem of designing an incentive system for teachers is the lack of tools for valid measurement. In many cases, the effort of a teacher would not be appreciated until many years afterwards. When the administration executives are basing their reward packages in short intervals (5 years?), they will not have the vision nor the will to look for long term benefits which cannot be measured in the short term.

We have also seen a gradual decline in the particpation of joining the teaching profession. In Australia, education faculty is one of the faculty admitting students at the lowest possible entry level. Some join the profession based on a passion, many enter the education faculty as a second or last choice.

The social status of teachers are not high too, pay not great, work load high and working environment bad. Who will join the teaching profession?

However, it is the time when educating our next generation is one of the most important and rewarding investment a government can make. As the society is entering a post-industrial era, when information becomes freely available, when repetitive tasks are taken over by automation, when low cost productions are out-sourced to developing countries, now is the time for the government to ensure that our next generation can compete in the new economy. The new wealth will depend on creativity, on new ways of manufacturing and on new ideas. In short, creative, adaptive and highly motivated citizens.

These young people, when they enter the work force, will need to have such a high productivity that one working person may need to support three to four dependents.

There is no sure way to achieve that. But Chinese traditional wisdom is to invest in education. Physical wealth or intellectual properties can be destroyed by war, change of policy or any circumstances beyond our control. The ability to adapt and adopt, the ability to create and survive (the result of sound education) stays with us.

Standardised tests measure conformance, even when they are effective. But we no longer need interchangeable workers in an assembly line. We need individual who are uniquely suited to solve unique problems on a daily basis. I don't think standardised tests can predict the achievement of these type of citizens.

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