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Monday, December 21, 2009

One of the questions asked of Secretary Duncan in US News and World Report.

The issue of merit pay for teachers is very controversial. A lot of people complain that basing merit pay on the scores of students just rewards teachers who happen to teach in rich districts. How can schools really measure student growth?

I am not a big believer in looking at absolute test scores. I think they tell you some things. There is a lot they don't tell you. I am a much bigger believer in looking at growth and gain and how much a student is improving each year. So, the more we can identify not just the teachers but the schools and the entire school districts that are accelerating student achievement and are accelerating student progress, those are the individuals and the teams and the schools and districts that we need to reward and shine a spotlight on, and most importantly learn from and replicate that success.

I'm not sure he answered the question. I'm glad to see he isn't a big fan of test cores. I'd like to hear a more definitive response to the question: How can schools really measure student growth?

Let me help him with a possible response. Digital webfolios are the way to go. As students do their work, that work is digitized, archived, and used for assessment. We can see progress, we can see teacher, peer, and the student comments on the work. This digital work travels with the student and becomes a more important permanent academic record than any test score because the viewer has access to the assignment, the work, the different drafts, and the comments. The current use of tests is very inadequate because teachers aren't involved in their creations, aren't aware of the contents, and the results are not immediately available to the teacher except a test score. These tests provide very little information and can't inform instruction, whereas a webfolio provides lots of student work that can and does inform instruction.

Technology must be used to do what it does best, data collection and then transferring the information to the teacher to guide hir in curriculum design and creation.

As I said it is encouraging to hear Secretary Duncan recognize the limits of the test scores. Now he needs to move on to discovering the power of technology is solving the question asked of him: How can schools really measure student growth?

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