Teachers are by far the most influential factor in the classroom. Students’ performance depends on how effective their teachers are. When teachers are held accountable, students receive better instruction, according to a 1998 study of California school districts conducted by WestEd and Management Analysis Planning, Inc. The flip side is that teachers may feel anxious, pressured to raise test scores and powerless, all of which can contribute to lowered morale. A classroom in which a teacher does not want to teach can lead to lowered test scores, poorer instruction and a lack of subject mastery.
Teaching to the Test
The need to improve students’ standardized test scores is generally recognized, as the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 demonstrates. Teachers often feel that they must prepare students for the standardized tests they take or lose their jobs. Part of a teacher’s evaluation process includes how well their students are doing on standardized tests from year to year. In an effort to preserve their jobs, teachers sometimes feel pressured to teach exactly what is on the test, to the detriment of creativity and flexibility in their classrooms.
Under the pressure to get their students to perform, teachers may feel like the fun of teaching has disappeared. Because they have to teach students how to do well on a certain exam, teachers recognize that their students lose interest in lessons that repeatedly focus on test questions and not on content in general. Being masters of their own classrooms is not as important as the need to improve students’ test scores. Teachers who are not motivated are less likely to find ways to make learning something students want to do. Additionally, many parents are beginning to counsel their children to politely refuse to take required standardized tests because they take away from valuable teaching time and reduce creativity in class. Doing so is a form of protest against the importance educational institutions place on standardized tests and the quality of their children's educations.
Assessment of teachers and students can be positive for marginal teachers who need extra support, according to Harold Levy, New York City’s school chancellor in 2001 in an editorial for The New York Times by Gail Collins. There is an alternative viewpoint to having students just fill in more practice test answers, however. Creative teachers can find ways to make learning just as interesting as it ever was while keeping the test in the back of their minds. Teachers who can perform at a high level can work together to teach kids what they need to know and encourage critical thinking and deeper inquiry.
Making the Test Work
Teachers who keep state instructional goals in mind as they design instructional activities and integrate assessment with their lessons can find a balance between the requirements of being accountable and having a classroom in which students want to learn. Teachers can find engaging ways to teach students the broader objectives that are tested each year in ways that encourage them to evaluate, think for themselves and analyze. By doing this, teachers are teaching to the test but are still igniting a fire of curiosity in their students.
As a parent, you can advocate for your child to get a teacher who is not only known for teaching standards required on tests but who also makes learning enjoyable. Talk to other parents with students a year or so ahead of yours to find out who the good teachers are. Research the reputations of charter and alternative schools in your area to see if their test scores hold up while their teachers still provide education in a creative way.
- WestEd: Chapter 10 – Impact of Standards Based Accountability Systems
- New American Foundation – Federal Education Budget Project: No Child Left Behind – Overview
- New York Times: Public Interests; Those Who Can’t, Test
- Carnegie Foundation: Teaching to the Test
- Education World: Has Accountability Taken All the Fun Out of Teaching and Learning?
- Syracuse.com: Pencils Down! Central New York Parents Tell Schools Their Children Won’t Take State Tests
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