Pick your poison

One error that some school reformers make is to place too much emphasis on testing, even when it takes into account different student backgrounds. Consider the case of a teacher who was good enough to be immediately rehired by the excellent Fairfax County, Virginia, school system after she had been dismissed in the District of Columbia primarily because of her students’ poor test scores. I believe evaluation of classroom performance by principals, other teachers of proven ability, and, in the case of secondary schools, by students themselves should weigh equally with test results. In an article in the April issue of the Atlantic , Jonathan Alter reports that the Chicago schools have found that students are the most reliable evaluators. Come to think of it, I bet you knew who your good teachers were and which ones were really lousy.

What is ironic is that I’m sure reformers came to overemphasize testing precisely because unions had been so loud in characterizing other methods—including evaluation of classroom performance by principals and unbiased and qualified teachers or by surveys of student opinion—as being too “subjective.” Testing seemed to answer the problem by being objective.

Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.