Bob Braun/Star-Ledger Columnist

Gov. Chris Christie has been touting his plans for education overhaul, including the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. It’s the first full week of school, a traditional time for politicians to roll out proposed changes.

It’s also the week a new book on education, Howard Wainer’s “Uneducated Guesses,” was released by the Princeton University Press. It raises significant questions about the premise on which much of Christie’s crusade is based — using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“It sounds like a good idea if you say it fast,” says Wainer, a Pennington resident who teaches statistics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “But then you have to look at the evidence.”

Wainer is no anti-test ideologue, no apologist for teacher unions. Much the opposite: For many years, he was principal research scientist at the Educational Testing Service, the people who brought us the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. He believes in tests.

What he doesn’t believe is that you can use test scores for purposes for which they were not designed — like judging the value of teachers based on changes in their students’ test scores, a so-called “value-added model” or VAM.


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