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Note to Suburban Parents: Annual Testing Can Help You Know if Your Child’s Teacher is Adding Much Value

January 24, 2014 3 minute Read by William McKenzie

No question here: Suburban parents got the ear of Texas legislators last year and persuaded them to start rolling back the state’s once bipartisan-backed system of testing and evaluating schools. The centerpiece of their work was the gutting of the set of end-of-course exams that high school students must pass to graduate. Instead of passing 15 end-of-course exams, Texas high schoolers must pass five.

The Legislature also agreed to allow qualifying students to skip out of some of the state tests that the No Child Left Behind Act requires. The law would have allowed a high-performing fifth-grader, for example, to skip annual tests in grades six and seven. (Fortunately, Education Secretary Arne Duncan dismissed the idea when Texas sought a waiver from No Child’s standards.)

Texas is hardly the only place where suburban parents are making their mark. They are leading the pushback against more rigorous Common Core standards, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently noted.

This is all of the same mix: too much testing, too much rigor.

As I noted in this recent blog, there are a number of reasons suburban parents should rethink their animus, especially toward testing. Here’s one more to add to the list: Without the detailed information that annual exams provide, how will parents know if their child’s teacher is really adding value to their education?

Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution broached this issue earlier this week. Here is a key point:

“… value-added calculations at the teacher level depend on the difference between the test scores of a teacher’s students at the end of the school year and the test scores of those same students at the end of the previous school year.  The annual gain in test scores of the teacher’s students, with some additional statistical information, is the teacher’s value-added.  Teachers whose students show greater gains have added more value to their students’ achievement than teachers whose students show lesser gains.”

The problem is, you can’t get that kind of information without yearly tests. You lack the data to make informed decisions about a teacher’s impact on a classroom. I don’t see how that helps any student.

Also, how can principals do reliable classroom observations without annual data? Whitehurst gets into that point, and he is right. Annual tests provide a benchmark for principals to use in observing the teachers on their campus.

I assume all of us parents want our teachers adding value to our child’s grasp of a subject, especially core ones like math and reading. But it gets real hard to do that without good data, the kind that comes from regular tests.


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

Full Bio

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