Editorial: SLO testing serves no purpose in teacher evaluation

Another school year, another nonsensical policy from the State Education Department. Its latest misguided attempt to improve New York’s public schools, the Student Learning Objective (SLO), focuses on evaluating teachers through tests administered to students before and after they complete the course.

The Education Department describes the new initiative as a means of gauging teacher effectiveness when no state assessments are in place. This means that all teachers except those teaching grades 4-8 English Language Arts or math are subject to evaluation through the Student Learning Objective.

There are some obvious differences between the SLO tests and these state tests, the most important of which is the fact that the SLO tests, by design, test students’ knowledge of things they have not yet learned.

Teachers administering the tests make it clear to their students that their results have no bearing at all on students’ grades. This relieves the stress that one would expect from taking half a dozen tests as soon as the school year begins.

Of course, the fact that these tests do not count for students’ grades also means that students have no incentives to attempt to do well on the exams.

Although the system of state tests did not affect students’ grades or transcripts either, students are tested on material they have learned and are expected to know, and the results of the tests are mailed to their parents. If that is not enough motivation to do well, a poor score on the test reflects poorly on the teacher, and most students would not want their own laziness to adversely affect their teachers.

With the SLO pre-test, students are under the impression that a poor score would ultimately benefit the teacher, as it would result in a greater improvement between the pre- and post-tests and make the teacher appear more effective.

Assuming that the average student enters a course with next to no knowledge of the curriculum and answers every question on the pre-test, scores should be roughly equivalent to what we’d expect from just choosing answers randomly.

Average grades for the AP Macroeconomics/Microeconomics pre-tests, for example, fell around 20%—roughly the same score that would be expected from an economically illiterate chimpanzee.

If most students are starting from scratch, The Schreiber Times feels that looking at the difference between pre- and post-tests is really no different than using grades from Regents or final exams to evaluate teachers, and renders the SLO system extremely useless.

The costs of this initiative are minimal, but the benefits are seemingly nonexistent. Most students only spend a few minutes of their time bubbling in random answers and writing silly essays, while teachers lose roughly an hour of class time and the additional time it takes to grade students’ exams.

The entire ordeal amounts to a lot of lost time, which The Schreiber Times feels is far too much for a pointless evaluation.