Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rethinking a Falling STAAR

I get a little thrill whenever something I read leads me to change a long-held belief, or even just forces me to question it. Spoiler alert: thrill coming.

I've long believed in the need for standardized testing in our schools. As I put it in "Falling STAAR":
We should constantly examine both our teaching methods and our methods of assessing the effectiveness of our teaching. We can try cutting back on standardized testing (the direction we seem to be going). But we still need some form of standardized testing to see if that results in anything good. So, let's ease up, watch the results closely, and take care that we don't over correct.
Source: The Wheel.
I haven't changed my mind about any of that. It's what's done with the results of those standardized tests that I am now forced to rethink. After the jump, what leads me to that.

It seems natural to somehow reward/punish schools/teachers based on the results of those standardized tests. Students in schools with low scores get to transfer. Teachers with low scores get fired. That kind of thing. "Of course, performance will get better if you pay people for outcomes, an Econ 101 student might say."

But what I used to think is obvious isn't necessarily so. I am forced to rethink my faith in free markets by an eye-opening article in Vox regarding our health care system.
In an effort to introduce more powerful incentives for improving care, recent federal and private policies have turned to a “pay-for-performance” model: Physicians get bonuses for meeting certain “quality of care standards.” ...Economists argue that such financial incentives motivate physicians to improve their performance and increase their incomes. In theory, that should improve patient outcomes. But in practice, pay-for-performance simply doesn't work. Even worse, the best evidence reveals that giving doctors extra cash to do what they are trained to do can backfire in ways that harm patients’ health.
Source: Vox.
Like I said, the article is eye-opening. The pay-for-performance reform in health care was a reaction to failures in the fee-for-services model. That model incentivized doing tests and providing services even if they were unnecessary. But the pay-for-performance model apparently doesn't have empirical support, either. It sounds good, but at heart it's a freshman economics faith-based system. The article provides evidence of failure and even some explanations why pay-for-performance could be failing.

Read the entire article. I'll be here when you come back.

I suspect the same is true in education. And the same lesson from health care will apply: "Instead of a punitive incentive-and-penalty approach, policymakers should try to identify the reasons for poor performance. In contrast to numbers that can be gamed, doctors and nurses want concrete information they can use to improve care and save money." Teachers want no less.

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