Picking and Choosing among “Best Practices”: The Case of Pay-for-Performance

(6-10-10) From the blog, Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

So “best practices” in teaching and learning, leaning on studies that seldom show strong connections between causes and effects, fall well behind the “evidence-based practice” that medicine has accumulated over time through clinical trials of experimental treatments. A simple peek at the U.S. Department of Education’s “What Works Clearinghouse” website confirms the few studies that rise to the level of evidence-based practice.

Finally, there are leap-frog “best practices,” that is, where experts in other institutions decide that certain practices can leap over institutional boundaries to be applied in a totally different setting. If you flashed forward and said, Larry is going to point out that some “best practices” in business are transferred to schools—you guessed correctly.

Which brings me to pay-for-performance and the “metric mania” that surrounds evaluating and paying teachers on the basis of student test scores. Where are the “best practices” to inform such policies?

There aren’t any. Experts in testing have said again and again, based on the best historical and statistical evidence available that student scores on group norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests should not be used to make high-stake judgments on individual students (e.g., be retained in a grade, withholding diplomas) because of measurement error, instability in scores over time, and other reasons (see American Educational Research Association Position Statement on High-Stakes Testing adopted in 2000).

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