Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Account Me out: Teachers, Testing and the Quantification of Education

Friday, November 13, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David M Hersh, Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Current education reforms aim to improve public education by using test-based metrics to hold schools and teachers accountable for students’ performance. They therefore fall under the broad category of public-sector reforms designed to improve governance through quantification. This is not new. The history of education reform shows a consistent theme of calls for drastic changes and corresponding attempts to find metrics to facilitate accountability. However, while prior reforms were similarly rationalized, what went on in the classroom remained protected from external interference by what has been referred to as the loose coupling of education organizations. Current reforms may end this loose coupling, at least for some school districts.  Driven by the federal Race to the Top program, as well as pressure exerted through conditional waivers of No Child Left Behind proficiency requirements, states are implementing more rigorous standardized tests aligned with a common set of standards and have begun collecting longitudinal data capable of associating students with their teachers. The goal of this data is to tease out the effect of the teacher on student test scores using econometric techniques to estimate treatment effects in the absence of randomization. These estimates, combined to differing degrees with summary scores from observations and other evaluative metrics, form teachers overall evaluation scores. These scores in turn have a range of consequenes for teachers and their schools. A mixed methods analysis combining survey data with case studies of two districts in New Jersey suggests that these scores, and perhaps to a greater extent the standardized testing that makes the scores possible, are, in fact, affecting what teachers are doing in their classrooms. However, while education reforms are universal across districts, the affect on classroom practices is likely not. Preliminary results indicate that elementary school teachers in an under-performing urban district are more affected by reforms than are teachers of the same grades in a high-performing suburban district.