Teaching for Tests: Is it What’s Best for Our Students?

Teacher performance has become an incredibly scrutinized statistic in recent decades. With legislation such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools were supposedly given clear and measurable goals for boosting lagging teacher and student performance. In an analytics driven world, this type of performance review is common and helpful. What many have taken issue with, however, are the tools we use to judge this performance. NCLB has raised the stakes for standardized testing. These tests are what measure a district's performance against its neighbors, and a state’s performance against the other 49 states. Standardized tests are designed to ensure that each state is doing what it can to meet national requirements. But when a teacher’s job and livelihood depends on a student passing a standardized test, does the teacher have any choice but to alter curriculum to focus solely on these tests?
Teaching for Tests is Causing Much Stress, Dishonesty
The National Education Association reported recently that teachers are feeling more stressed than ever. Citing a report by psychologist Rodney A. McCloy, the article states that programs like NCLB are tying student performance directly to teachers’ salaries and job security. “This lack of control over their professional lives, their classrooms, and the test scores of their students has teachers unnerved,” writes Stephenie Overman. Reform measures have left teachers feeling bound by a particular type of classroom behavior that they feel represents only a small portion of a well-rounded education program. Many teachers report that the stress comes more from the feeling that, by spending their energy administering these tests, they are not doing what is best for the kids. A more nefarious side-effect may be the dishonesty that these high-stakes standardized tests can cause. Schools in Atlanta and Philadelphia are under investigation for doctoring their tests in order to boost scores. Other cities, including New York, Washington D.C., and Houston are facing similar scrutiny. While there are no excuses for this type of illegal tampering on the part of school administrators, it shows that tying teacher pay and job security to standardized tests can lead to such dangers.
Teachers and Schools Begin To Usher in Change
Teachers, administrators and parents have all begun to notice the error of NCLB high-stakes testing. In 2011, Parents Across America latched on to a report by the National Research Council, which concluded that NCLB measures “...fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” and “...are small in comparison with the improvement the nation hopes to achieve.” National Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew also points out that none of the countries with the top education systems rely on standardized tests to drive curriculum or monitor teacher performance. “Finland, for instance, eliminated all standardized tests except one in the 12th grade,” writes Mulgrew, “It now ranks second in science, third in reading and sixth in math in international rankings of student knowledge.” With pressure from states and stakeholders, the government has begun to ease up on certain measures dictated by NCLB. The Center for American Progress reported that the Obama administration has offered states the chance to apply for NCLB waivers. If states request forgiveness for measures such as high-stakes testing, they must first propose an alternative plan with funding sources and projections in order to qualify. They will not simply be granted relief with no contingency plan in place. More recently, the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution against high-stakes testing. "It's time to restore balance in our schools so that teaching and learning, not testing, are at the center of education," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Students lose out on rich learning experiences when districts cut art, music, sports, social studies, science and other subjects to focus strictly on math and reading tests." Similarly, many states are changing the way they approve their teachers for licensure. States such as New York are changing standards so that teachers performance is graded more on their in-class performance and knowledge, rather than on test scores. Qualification for licensure will be based more on teaching, less on testing. This trend shows a growing dissatisfaction with relying solely on tests to make important salary and staffing decisions in our schools. What do you think about high-stakes testing? Is it good or bad for our nation’s teachers and students?