Test “priming”: Malcolm Gladwell on how to push test results, and why tests might not work


Who is the interviewer, Allan Gregg?

From the YouTube site:

Malcolm Gladwell in an interview about Blink explains priming, and re-states some of the examples of priming from Blink with CC (closed captions)

Here’s a longer excerpt of the interview; from TVO (TVOntario)?

Discussion:  Gladwell appears to confirm, for testing results, the old aphorism attributed to Henry Ford:  “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”  Gladwell seems to be saying that the student’s view of his or her abilities at the moment the test starts rules in a significant way how the student performs — worse, for teachers, it’s the student’s unconscious view of his or her abilities.  As a final shot in class, I have often had students predict their performance on state tests.   I have them write what they think they will scores.  Then I ask them to predict what they would have scored, had they applied themselves seriously to study of history — and of course, almost always the students have a fit of honesty and predict their scores would have been higher.  Then I ask them to pretend they had studied, and cross out the lower predicted score and replace it with the higher predicted score.  At the schools where I’ve taught, we do not administer the tests to our own students, and such exercises are prohibited on the day of the test.  Too bad, you think?

Another exercise I’ve found useful for boosting scores is to give the students one class period, just over an hour, to take the entire day-long TAKS social studies test, in the on-line version offered by the Texas Education Agency.  Originally I wanted students to get scared about what they didn’t know, and to get attuned to the questions they had no clue about so they’d pick it up in class.  What I discovered was that, in an hour, clearly with the pressure off (we weren’t taking it all that seriously, after all, allowing just an hour), students perform better than they expected.  So I ask them to pass a judgment on how difficult the test is, and what they should be scoring — almost unanimously they say they find the test not too difficult on the whole, and definitely conquerable by them.

What else could we do with students, if we knew how to prime them for tests, or for writing papers, or for any other piece of performance on which they would be graded?

With one exception, my administrators in Dallas ISD have been wholly inuninterested in such ideas, and such results — there is no checkbox on the teacher evaluation form for using online learning tools to advance test scores, and administrators do not regard that as teaching.  The one exception was Dorothy Gomez, our principal for two years, who had what I regarded as a bad habit of getting on the intercom almost every morning to cheer on students for learning what they would be tested on.  My post-test surveys of students showed those pep talks had been taken to heart, and we got much better performance out of lower-performing groups and entire classes during Gomez’s tenure (she has since left the district).

Also, if psychological tricks can significantly affect test scores, surely that invalidates the idea that we can use any test score to evaluate teacher effectiveness, unless immediate testing results is all we want teachers to achieve.  Gladwell said in this clip:

To me that completely undermines this notion, this naive notion that many educators have that you can reduce someone’s intelligence to a score on a test.  You can’t.

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17 Responses to Test “priming”: Malcolm Gladwell on how to push test results, and why tests might not work

  1. […] Test “priming”: Malcolm Gladwell on how to push test results, and why tests might not wo… (timpanogos.wordpress.com) […]

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  2. las artes says:

    Additional research seeks ways to boost the test scores and academic achievement of students in negatively-stereotyped groups. In one study, teaching college women about stereotype threat and its effects on performance was sufficient to eliminate the predicted gender gap on a difficult math test.

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    But the conductor knows who the concert master is and who the seventh chair 4th violinist is. AND he’s cut many many accomplished violinists that never made the stage.

    My hypothetical said that every one was competent. I suspected you’re religiously enamored of firing, and of course you verify that. Firing competent people is just as good to you as firing incompetents.

    Cargo cult employment practices, cargo cult education.

    Do the rest of us a favor and stay out of education policy until you’ve taught a couple of years, or done something else to learn about the system and how it works. Don’t tell me it’s not working when you can’t measure anything about it accurately.

    I noted: “Firing wastes money. IBM’s study shows that the simplest separation costs a company at least 1.25 times the salary of the position, just to fill it with a warm body.”

    I’m willing to pay the premium for accomplished teachers. I can’t tolerate incompetence.

    You’re willing to waste money to get the satisfaction of firing people, even those who work well, those who are perfectly competent.

    As a citizen, you’re incompetent. Your desire to waste money suggests a deep-seated issue, but one that doesn’t survive well in public policy discussion. Wasting money is what you probably think you were trying to prevent, but now we see you’re happy to waste money if you get to fire people. Since you can’t tolerate incompetence, you are obligated now to fix that somehow. Don’t plague a classroom, though. Maybe you should read Richard Feynman.

    I said: “You’re a Republican, aren’t you.”

    No. I’m not a liberal.

    I doubt that, but it’s clear you’re trying to be. And somewhere you saw a description of American education as “a liberal education,” and so you think you should hate all of it.

    Look up “liberal education” and see what it really means.

    And if you ever figure out what it is that makes a classroom successful in educating students, and how to measure it, do let us know.

    You may have noticed that, though I’ve rated you as “incompetent” at citizenship, I did not offer to have you fired. I’m hopeful you can improve. Modeling the goal is one of the few strategies we know works, but again, only in retrospect.

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    According to your analysis, there is no spectrum in teacher effectiveness.

    You have an interesting hypothesis. However, we have been unable figure out what that spectrum of effectiveness is, and all attempts to measure it so far have failed. The measures tried so far rate “effective teachers” as “incompetent” and “ineffective teachers” as “highly successful” as often as they get it right.

    I think there is a spectrum, most likely. The research on what that spectrum is is vague at best. Were it a medical condition, it would be rated at a state in which we could not yet say it suggests any treatment for a “cure” to any problem. I could hypothesize that the “spectrum of teacher effectiveness” is the result of a virus, and there is about as much evidence of that as any other cause. Worse, we can’t tell whether the virus infects the teachers, or the students.

    Consequently, whether there is a spectrum or not (and I suspect there is), no one can accurately rate teachers on that spectrum. Consequently, any system that involves firing will be more destructive than productive, by definition — if we consider things like “teacher motivation” and “educational attainment of students” as important.

    So, you’re proposing unproven hypothesis on unproven hypothesis, and you’re suggesting a disproven treatment for a disease you only hypothesize. Can you get back to us when you know something for sure?

    (Again, please go read the links I’ve offered above; the “spectrum of effectiveness” projects in New York and Washington, D.C., both produced clouds of data showing confusion, not the straight line spectrum anyone hoped to see.)

    If you just want to fire people, why not use a wheel like “Wheel of Fortune?” Why not use a roll of the dice? Such a method would be no less accurate than any scheme you can propose today — but it would at least be honest in admitting it’s a game of chance, and not skill or art.

    Further, you argue that teachers have low amounts of impact on educational attainment.

    I didn’t say that. I said we can’t tell for sure what teachers do that works, especially before the fact.

    Research on how people learn does not light the way for us here — we do not know exactly how or why people learn. We have some good ideas, but our schools are structured on a 19th century model that was never research-based, overlayed with industrial revolution and Gilded Age ideas about how to produce compliant, uncomplaining workers. Most research demonstrates those models to be fatally defective. You wish to blame teachers for stuff that is way, way beyond their control. Why not fire the people who designed those classrooms incorrectly? Why not fire the people who decided to use books in place of a library (oh, yeah, I know — the librarians have already been fired, victims to some unholy and completely rumor-based idea that librarians have low effectiveness in teaching and education . . .).

    Give us a working and workable hypothesis for how people learn, and a genuine theory-based structure for schools, and then you can blame teachers if they don’t carry out what we know to work.

    But you propose to fire teachers based on superstition about how things ought to work if the gods smile right and the shaman can induce the great silver birds to land on the South Pacific Islands and disgorge GIs and oil barrels. Your ideas are cargo cult education, and no more.

    If I were to agree with this line of thinking, I would hire a Wal-mart clerk to teach and you’d be unable to demonstrate that she was effective or not.

    Effective at what? Under your hypothesis, you should be able to give that Wal-Mart clerk a lesson plan and a set of books — and why wouldn’t she be successful? That is exactly what you have proposed. How will you measure that clerk’s success? How were those measures validated?

    I’m beginning to think you’re not really famliar with measurement for success. You propose throwbacks to Taylorism, but you ignore all the post-World War II research on effective learning in organizations, and effective organization to accomplish tasks. Shouldn’t we at least look to successful, proven methods of getting work done, even if we don’t fully understand how the ultimate effect works?

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  5. pino says:

    In a given symphony orchestra, all the violinists, from the concert master through the seventh chair 4th violins are masters.

    But the conductor knows who the concert master is and who the seventh chair 4th violinist is. AND he’s cut many many accomplished violinists that never made the stage.

    Firing wastes money. IBM’s study shows that the simplest separation costs a company at least 1.25 times the salary of the position, just to fill it with a warm body.

    I’m willing to pay the premium for accomplished teachers. I can’t tolerate incompetence.

    You’re a Republican, aren’t you.

    No. I’m not a liberal.

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  6. pino says:

    So, you say we should fire the teacher? How does that help anyone? Had that teacher stayed there, she would have been highly rated the next year, the statistics show. That’s not just unworkable, it’s stupid, homicidal and suicidal.

    According to your analysis, there is no spectrum in teacher effectiveness. Further, you argue that teachers have low amounts of impact on educational attainment. If I were to agree with this line of thinking, I would hire a Wal-mart clerk to teach and you’d be unable to demonstrate that she was effective or not.

    I don’t think that’s where you wanna take this.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m just saying that we should fire the poorest cooks, baseball players, violinists and teachers. That’s all. Really, it’s not controversial at all.

    In a given symphony orchestra, all the violinists, from the concert master through the seventh chair 4th violins are masters. They play fantastically together, they work as a team, and they literally make beautiful music.

    Why fire any of them? Firing wastes money. IBM’s study shows that the simplest separation costs a company at least 1.25 times the salary of the position, just to fill it with a warm body. Costs may rise to double that if you’re trying to get performance equal to the person who left, no matter how bad their performance was.

    W. Edwards Deming ran the statistical studies for nearly 80 years that show the “worst” workers in almost all jobs are rated that way because the hurdles put up by management, because of the problems management creates or does not solve, most of which are well beyond the control of the worker. In other words, if you have a lousy teacher, it’s the administrator’s fault (which follows logically from your claim that a student’s poor performance is the teacher’s fault).

    So firing the teacher masks the problem, disrupts the program, destroys morale among surviving teachers — and according to the results from the places it’s been tried, it does zero to improve student learning.

    You’re a Republican, aren’t you.

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    What I AM arguing is that we CAN measure the impact a teacher has based on how well hundreds of kids perform in the years AFTER they leave the teacher’s classroom.

    Please look at the links I offered earlier. It would make sense that we could measure value added — after all, isn’t that how they figure the Value Added Taxes in the European Economic Union?

    However, students are humans, not widgets. It turns out that, no, we can’t measure value added in students. Family income (and consequently, discussions about life and the world around the “dinner table”) affect student performance much more than any teacher, and for much, much longer. A great teacher can have a huge effect on a student — but the teacher that connects with Student A this year, may not connect with Student B, and so the effect occurs for only 50% of the students. Why? Student B’s father lost his job early in the year; later in the year Student B’s mother was diagnosed with a chronic disease that had already progressed very far.

    So, you say we should fire the teacher? How does that help anyone? Had that teacher stayed there, she would have been highly rated the next year, the statistics show. That’s not just unworkable, it’s stupid, homicidal and suicidal.

    The studies done on value-added measurements show that we cannot make those measures. Those teachers predicted to do well next year actually are no more likely to perform better than if they were picked at random by a chimp throwing darts. Over the course of three years, every teacher, on average, will be rated “unacceptable and fodder for firing” in at least one year, regardless their quality.

    So, while it would appear “logically” that we should be able to make such measurements, in reality, we can’t.

    Firing teachers on the basis of such measurements is less accurate than just lobbing grenades randomly in the teachers’ lounge between classes.

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  9. pino says:

    So in your world a teacher should be punished because of something completely out of their control? Because its a sure bet that kid I just talked about brought down the test scores of every class he was in.

    Not at all.

    What I’m suggesting is that if you take a large random sample of about 100 kids, 3-4 years worth of students in a SINGLE class – teachers often have 5 such classes daily presenting us with a sample of 500 kids-, we can predict how those kids will perform year over year. On average, the typical kid will perform about the same as they have before; a kid good in math from grades 1, 2 and 3 will perform about the same in grade 4. However, if we begin to notice that about 30-40% of Mr K’s kids perform significantly higher than we would expect while only 1-2% of the perform below expectations he is a better teacher than Mr Pino who has only 5-10% of kids perform above expectations while clocking in at 60% who perform lower than expected.

    Remember, this is a study using hundreds of kids, randomly selected across several and comparing them to themselves!

    If a kid fails in school it’s the teachers fault…it couldn’t be possibly anything else.

    I don’t believe this. In fact, I think much of it is the parent’s fault. Parents who don’t discipline their kid or feed their kid or take them to the eye doctor ’cause they can’t see the blackboard. I’m only claiming that some teachers, given a population of kids, teach better than others.

    Because your side wants to destroy the teachers unions and that is the only reason you and your side use teachers as punching bags.

    I DO want to destroy the teacher’s unions. Unions are not concerned about kids and education; they’re concerned with power. And for the record, I only use bad teachers as punching bags. I do this in the same way that I used Nick Punto as a punching bag when he played for the Minnesota Twins. He was a horrible baseball player.

    And yet you couldn’t explain why those 5 are supposedly the worst if you actually tried with any honesty. Nor could you possibly, in any honesty, boil it down to one single variable.

    Sure I could.

    I’d wager that if I walked into those worst 5 teacher’s classroom for even 30 minutes I’d know why they were failing teachers.

    Like how Governor Bobbie “Alfred E. Neuman” Jindal is implementing curriculum standards and texts that, among other things, teach that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time

    To the extent that republicans are trying to teach that people and T-Rex lived at the same time, I’ll grant you, that’s stupid.

    “environmentalists want to destroy the worlds economy

    Many environmentalists DO wanna change the world economy. They see the system as dramatically unfair and wanna use the environment to relieve the wealthy nations of money and give that money to the poorer nations.

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  10. pino says:

    You’re confusing teaching with learning.

    I don’t think I am. I’m not saying that learning Hamlet is harder or easier than teaching Hamlet. I’m saying that measuring mastery of Hamlet is similar to measuring mastery of teaching.

    I doubt it. You should see the tests used.

    Then I argue that you can’t use tests to measure kids and grade them.

    And if you give that test to the students, are you testing what the teacher actually does?

    It’s important to point out that I agree with the argument that just because Johnny did poorly on a single test or performed poorly over the course of a year it doesn’t reflect on the teacher. Kids vary in intelligence and mastery of subject matter.

    What I AM arguing is that we CAN measure the impact a teacher has based on how well hundreds of kids perform in the years AFTER they leave the teacher’s classroom.

    Can you rate a physician practicing in rural Pakistan, against a physician practicing on the east side of New York City, on the basis of whether any of their patients get polio? Cholera? Esophogeal cancer? What if the physicians were trained in the same hospital?

    Not at all, clearly. But what we CAN measure is the doctor’s skill in Pakistan and NYC. For example, at first blush it may appear that the Pakistani doctor’s patients contract polio at a 10% clip compared to the NYC doctor’s patients who are diagnosed with polio at a 1% is a much poorer doctor. And indeed, to your exact point, that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. However, if we take the good doctor in Pakistan and compare him with other Pakistani doctors over a period of 3-5 years we may find out that while his patients contract the disease at 10%, the overall average rate for Pakistani doctors is 30%; our man is dramatically overachieving!

    And the NYC doctor? Sadly for his patient base the average for all NYC doctors is only .02%. Our guy in NYC is dramatically UNDER performing.

    You assume that the bottom five are incompetent. You assume that the top five are competent.

    I assume nothing. I leave the adjudication to you. You kknow who the best teachers in your school are. And you know the worst.

    Unfortunately, that’s not education, that’s widget-making.

    No. This is ensuring that the best are teaching our kids. Your position assumes that there are no bad teachers.

    Plus, “everyone knows who the best teachers are” turns out to be wrong. Looking for those who get the best results year after year most often targets the ones people know to be the best, within three years. Firing, then, becomes arbitrary and counterproductive.

    Again, no one advocates looking at single year test scores.

    You also assume educational leaders are wholly incompetent to make a good teacher from a bad one. Why?

    Where I agree with you is that the system should work harder to help teachers learn more. To become better teachers. However, even when professional athletes receive elite coaching, we’re still left with elite and substandard athletes.

    That’s essentially what you propose for teachers.

    Not at all. Teachers, like cooks, or baseball players or violin players, vary wildly across the skill and mastery spectrum. I’m just saying that we should fire the poorest cooks, baseball players, violinists and teachers. That’s all. Really, it’s not controversial at all.

    What makes it hard is the mindset of the union based workforce that can’t accept personal responsibility.

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  11. JamesK says:

    To quote:
    Do you feel that excellent teachers are able to evaluate comprehension of and mastery of “Hamlet”, “The Impact of WWII on the World” and “The meaning of morality in modern politics?”

    I do. I think those things can be measured and grades handed out.

    There was a kid in my school who was a year older then me. And yet he managed to be held back in first grade. So suffice it to say he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the world. And he didn’t get any brighter by the time he got to high school.

    So in your world a teacher should be punished because of something completely out of their control? Because its a sure bet that kid I just talked about brought down the test scores of every class he was in.

    You see that’s the problem with your side in this debate and well..every other debate. You see in black and white. Your side’s thinking is simplistic…hell it’s downright simple minded. If a kid fails in school it’s the teachers fault…it couldn’t be possibly anything else. No matter if the kid is just stupid or, in the case of another example, the reason I got so much better grades in reading and my classes then a cousin of mine is that my parents read to me when I was young, got me interested in reading and emphasized academics and well my cousin’s parents, love them as much as I do, simply didn’t.

    Why? Because your side wants to destroy the teachers unions and that is the only reason you and your side use teachers as punching bags. The proof? Because your side doesn’t go after private schools for their failings. In fact public schools seems to be the only place you guys ever want to implement standards. You’re perfectly fine with an entire industry’s CEO’s and top executives being so grossly incompetent that they managed to single handedly crash the economy. *points to Wall Street* When Blackwater and Halliburton kept on fouling up what was your sides response? To give them ever larger federal contracts.

    To quote:
    And by the way, if you know who the best 5-10 are, you know who the worst 5 are.

    And yet you couldn’t explain why those 5 are supposedly the worst if you actually tried with any honesty. Nor could you possibly, in any honesty, boil it down to one single variable.

    Oh and by the way…your political party’s emphasis on advocating ignorance and stupidity isn’t helping either. Like how Governor Bobbie “Alfred E. Neuman” Jindal is implementing curriculum standards and texts that, among other things, teach that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time and that “environmentalists want to destroy the worlds economy.” Or Rick Perry’s Texas which somehow managed to convince itself that John Calvin and Phyllis Schlafely are more important to US History then Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.

    Sorry, Pino, the world is a lot more complex then your conservatives with their simple minded bulldrek can deal with.

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    P.S.: The point of Gladwell’s discussion here is that test results can be affected by dozens of things, some that can be controlled, some that cannot. How do you know the successful teachers haven’t figured out the right bribe? And since the “successful” teachers keep their jobs, why would they share the results with anyone else?

    Freakonomics argues that such schemes do have predictable results100% of the time they encourage cheating (though not in 100% of the teachers; don’t misread, please). Since the test results are divorced from actual education, why wouldn’t a rational teacher cheat, if there were a reasonable chance of getting away with it? Especially, why wouldn’t the teachers rated bad one year, cheat to keep their jobs? What’s to lose?

    Why not a study on how administrators sabotage good test results teachers strive to earn? How about a test to see if just using a few psychological tricks before the test won’t substitute for a full year’s worth of classroom time?

    (Incidentally, there’s a good discussion of merit pay for teachers at the Freakonomics blog: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/20/the-debate-over-teacher-merit-pay-a-freakonomics-quorum/ )

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  13. Ed Darrell says:

    Do you feel that excellent teachers are able to evaluate comprehension of and mastery of “Hamlet”, “The Impact of WWII on the World” and “The meaning of morality in modern politics?”

    I do. I think those things can be measured and grades handed out.

    You’re confusing teaching with learning. The question is, can teachers be evaluated fairly on the products of tests that do not track whether students have comprehended and mastered Hamlet, or anything else? I doubt it. You should see the tests used.

    And if you give that test to the students, are you testing what the teacher actually does?

    Can you rate a physician practicing in rural Pakistan, against a physician practicing on the east side of New York City, on the basis of whether any of their patients get polio? Cholera? Esophogeal cancer? What if the physicians were trained in the same hospital?

    That’s a more analogous situation, even classroom to classroom.

    If a entire profession of people who are skilled at teasing out mastery of such hard to measure subjects, why can’t those same experts somehow manage to measure mastery of the art of teaching? I find it fascinating that the only thing a teacher CAN’T grade is a teacher.*

    You assume it’s the same process, again, and you assume that a measure a degree or two down the line works. That hasn’t been demonstrated by any research.

    A way to make fair and accurate evaluations may exist, but kids are not widgets on an assembly line, and learning remains a mystery — we don’t know what the processes are that make it work right from one child to the next, nor from one adult to the next. Is Mondrian a better painter than Turner? Pollock better than Peale? Beethoven better than Chuck Berry? Vanilla better than chocolate?

    Surely if we can put a one-ton robot on Mars, we can tell whether vanilla is better than chocolate, no?

    However, the method used to measure teachers isn’t a single test, it’s the achievement of groups of students in future grades over time. That is, if students taking math from Mr. Einstein perform well in subsequent grades and students taking math from Mr. Pino do consistently worse over those same ensuing years, we can conclude that Einstein is a stronger teacher than Pino.

    * This can be demonstrated very easily. Take the top 5-10 teachers in your school. Ask them to think about and then list the 5 most incompetent teachers in rank order. There would be 4 teachers on each list.

    And by the way, if you know who the best 5-10 are, you know who the worst 5 are.

    Fire them.

    You assume that the bottom five are incompetent. You assume that the top five are competent. You assume that a teacher’s success with a class this year can be duplicated on 15, or 150, different students next year, with a different text, a different set of crises, etc., etc. Your assumptions are breathtaking in their scope.

    And wrong, so far as any research tells. Bill Gates has spent about $100 million in projects to demonstrate that we can tell the good teachers from the bad solely on how their students “do” over time. The results are in, and they tell us that the variations in students and circumstances show that Teacher A’s success this year is absolutely non-predictive of success next year.

    See: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/teacher-ratings-cant-tell-good-teachers-from-bad-ones-back-to-the-drawing-board/ (be sure to follow the links);

    And: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/missing-the-point-finlands-education-success-built-on-no-tests-no-teacher-floggings-no-school-choice/

    It sounds good as a hypothesis — take the best teachers, “and everyone knows who they are,” and weed out the bad ones. Unfortunately, that’s not education, that’s widget-making. If you treat kids as widgets, their achievement over time will come more and more to resemble the achievement of widgets. That’s probably a bad idea.

    Now we have spectacular failures of such schemes in Washington, D.C., and New York City, and Los Angeles, and everywhere else it’s been tried. How many failures does it take before we determine it doesn’t work? And if the advocates of “fire the worst ones” can’t tell that their system doesn’t work after a series of 100% failures, why do we think they’re smart enough to evaluate anything on any basis?

    Plus, “everyone knows who the best teachers are” turns out to be wrong. Looking for those who get the best results year after year most often targets the ones people know to be the best, within three years. Firing, then, becomes arbitrary and counterproductive.

    You also assume educational leaders are wholly incompetent to make a good teacher from a bad one. Why?

    Someone, perhaps Dickens, wrote that the French considered it a good idea, from time to time, to execute one of the generals or admirals — to keep the others on their toes, and in line. It’s the tactic of fear to gain compliance. It’s a funny line, really, but one I think a lot of people subscribe to.

    History shows that doesn’t work in the long run, and often, not in the short run. It’s a tactic developed and enunciated by Frederick II of Austria, “Frederick the Great.” He wanted his soldiers to fear the officers of his army more than they feared the enemy. That way, once they got into battle and panicked, as soldiers in the front lines most often do in battle, they’d at least run the right way, knowing their officers would kill them in more painful fashion than the enemy could.

    Do you know who Frederick the Great was, really? Do you know his record in war? Do you know his record in anything else?

    Are you familiar with history? The German Army, in World War II, was trained with much the same philosophy. Because the officers made it clear that they did not expect the Allies to invade at Normandy, when the invasion took place, frantic calls were made to Berlin to see what to do, rather than figure out a way to defeat the invaders. That delay caused defeat in German pillbox after pillbox, and ultimately along the entire line of the beaches invaded.

    Meanwhile, as Stephen Ambrose describes it, things were different on the Allies’ side, especially among the Americans. The pre-invasion bombing Eisenhower planned, didn’t work due to weather. Same for the behind-the-lines drops of equipment and arms, not to mention the fatal design flaws in the “gliders” used to deliver a lot of the larger implements. The 32 tanks that were supposed to cut through the concertina wire and other defenses on the beaches, and after which the U.S. Army was supposed to follow, mostly failed. 31 of them sank because they were dropped too far out from the beach, and the flotation devices failed in gunfire (killing most of the tank crews by drowning, by the way). As a result, at each landing point the Americans found themselves pinned down by the basic beach defense cross-fire, early in the invasion.

    Ambrose wrote about three critical places on the beach, and he identified the grunt GIs and one officer who, faced with the decision of retreating, and probably dying, or staying on the beach and definitely dying, decided they would abandon Eisenhower’s plans and move forward to improve the chances of winning the war. In each of those places, early breakthroughs were made, the Allies got a toehold in Europe again, and the end of the war began.

    Now, shouldn’t we have simply been able to take those three successful men, duplicate their methods, and win in Korea?

    That’s essentially what you propose for teachers.

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  14. pino says:

    if psychological tricks can significantly affect test scores, surely that invalidates the idea that we can use any test score to evaluate teacher effectiveness

    Do you feel that excellent teachers are able to evaluate comprehension of and mastery of “Hamlet”, “The Impact of WWII on the World” and “The meaning of morality in modern politics?”

    I do. I think those things can be measured and grades handed out.

    If a entire profession of people who are skilled at teasing out mastery of such hard to measure subjects, why can’t those same experts somehow manage to measure mastery of the art of teaching? I find it fascinating that the only thing a teacher CAN’T grade is a teacher.*

    However, the method used to measure teachers isn’t a single test, it’s the achievement of groups of students in future grades over time. That is, if students taking math from Mr. Einstein perform well in subsequent grades and students taking math from Mr. Pino do consistently worse over those same ensuing years, we can conclude that Einstein is a stronger teacher than Pino.

    * This can be demonstrated very easily. Take the top 5-10 teachers in your school. Ask them to think about and then list the 5 most incompetent teachers in rank order. There would be 4 teachers on each list.

    And by the way, if you know who the best 5-10 are, you know who the worst 5 are.

    Fire them.

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  15. Ed Darrell says:

    Ah, yes, the back-to-the-grind PowerPoints — be sure you see this video of Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen — his pokes at PowerPoint are dead on. The rest of what he has to say is especially important for elementary teachers, and don’t miss where he polls people who tell him they learned the most and had the most fun in elementary school . . . http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2012/07/the-need-for-engagement-in-education-redux.html

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  16. alwaysjan says:

    I realize that I DO prime my students by telling them that my class consistently scores the highest (even when I didn’t teach a GATE cluster that was true in math, and even in some years when the previous class hadn’t). I’ve also prepared them the best I can and taught them to say in unison, “We’ll do our best. Bring on that stinkin’ test!” It’s like “High Noon!” Gladwell brings up some interesting examples of how priming can work against students. And any teacher can tell you that a single test score isn’t a true representation of a student’s potential. It’s just a snapshot. Our state test results will not come out until after school begins this year. The teachers were laughing that this means we won’t spend our first day back in the hot library watching a Powerpoint showing scores and what bands certain students scored in. Hallelujah!

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  17. […] is mostly borrowed from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, with the express permission of the author! Share history:DiggEmailShare on TumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

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Play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes.

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