I usually agree with Matt Di Carlo. He is one smart guy.

But not always.

That’s okay. Friends can disagree and still be friends (I proved that by blogging with Deborah Meier for five years).

I think that value-added methods of using test scores to rate teacher quality are “junk science.”

Matt disagrees

Now, granted, I am but a historian, not a social scientist, but I do read lots of social science. I noted that the National Academy of Education and AERA held a briefing on Capitol Hill and issued a joint statement warning about the pitfalls of VAM. Here is a salient point from their report: “With respect to value-added measures of student achievement tied to individual teachers, current research suggests that high-stakes, individual-level decisions, or comparisons across highly dissimilar schools or student populations, should be avoided.”

Edmund Gordon, one of our nation’s most eminent psychologists, recently led a commission to study assessment practices. He concluded that the overemphasis and misuse of standardized testing to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable is not only ineffective but “immoral.”

I would say that “immoral” is an even stronger condemnation than “junk science.”

Campbell’s Law suggests that the use of high-stakes testing degrades education. Threatening to fire teachers if their students’ scores don’t go up does not produce better education. It produces worse education. It promotes narrowing of the curriculum. It promotes cheating. It encourages teachers and schools to avoid the neediest students.

Teaching is so much more than test scores. To think that teachers may be defined significantly by the rise or fall of the test scores of their students requires a belief in the intrinsic value of standardized tests that I do not share. We may learn something from wide assessments with no-stakes, like NAEP. But using these flawed instruments to fire teachers and close schools is–in my judgment–wrong. They were not designed for those purposes. And the first rule of psychometrics is that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed.

All things considered, the term “junk science” seems appropriate, as does Dr. Gordon’s phrase: ineffective and immoral.

One reason parents flee public schools, if they can afford it, is to escape the dead hand of testing that now strangles learning. The sooner we can put testing in its place as a diagnostic tool for teachers to assess what they have taught (not as a Pearson-designed 14-hour ordeal), the sooner we will restore the rightful purposes of education and the dignity of the teaching profession.