"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Test Pressure and its Impact in the Classroom

WTHR, Indianapolis' NBC affiliate sent out an non scientific survey to teachers earlier this month. In it they asked about the pressures that standardized testing has put on their students, themselves, their classrooms and their ability to teach.

The survey was released just days after news of a cheating scandal at North Central High School in Indianapolis hit the news.

According to the survey many (10%) of the 2000 teachers who responded to the survey knew of students who have cheated...and a similar number (11%) knew about other teachers who have cheated.

No one condones cheating on the tests, but the fact remains that when the pressure to succeed overwhelms the available resources people will game the system and figure out ways to succeed, even if those ways are unethical. Campbell's Law states that
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Donald Campbell, an experimental social science reseacher, also said,
...achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.
It's clear, under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, that test scores have become the goal of the teaching process. The fact that standardized tests are now so important has made the tests themselves less valid.

In an article about the survey, WTHR mentioned the additional key findings.
  • 81% of teachers said they feel pressure related to their students' achievement on standardized tests.
  • 80% of teachers said pressure related to standardized tests has a negative impact on the learning environment in their classroom.
  • 78% of teachers said pressure related to standardized tests has a negative impact on their ability to teach effectively.
Pressure related to student achievement is not always bad. Teachers should be pressured to help their students achieve. That's the point of schools and public education, after all. However, when pressure overwhelms reality then things need to change. The fact that so many teachers feel that the pressure has a negative impact on their classrooms and on their ability to teach is significant. The tests are making it harder to teach and that's backwards. As a society, we need to do everything we can to make it easier for teachers to teach and for students to learn, not the opposite. In the video accompanying the story, Theresa Meredith, Vice President of the Indiana State Teachers Association said,
I think when you push for competition in a school setting, when we're all supposed to be heading toward the same goal, we're all supposed to be working to help our students achieve as much as they possibly can...when you change that dynamic and you put so much pressure on schools and you force them to compete, literally compete, against each other, teachers feel tremendous pressure.
The education reformers are convinced (and have been for decades) that competition is what's needed to improve our public schools. The fact that it doesn't work doesn't seem to matter to them. It hasn't worked in Milwaukee, where a voucher system has been "in competition" with the public schools for two decades. It hasn't worked in thousands of charter schools around the country whose scores and results are no better than regular, neighborhood public schools (see HERE, HERE and HERE). Competition yields winners and losers and, when it comes to public education, we shouldn't accept any loss.

Diane Ravitch, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, wrote,
Our schools will not improve if we entrust them to the magical powers of the market. Markets have winners and losers...Our goal must be to establish school systems that foster academic excellence in every school and every neighborhood.
Every child must be given the opportunity to develop to the highest level of their ability and motivation. That is, after all, why we have a public school system.

In a telling comment about the survey, Stephanie Sample, The Indiana DOE Communcations director said,
Do you really think parents care if their kids' teachers are feeling pressure? I don't. I think most parents just want them to teach.
Of course Indiana parents want their children's teachers to "teach." Sample's condescending comment seems to ignore the fact that the atmosphere of the classroom has an impact on student learning. I think most parents would, indeed, care if their child's teachers felt that pressure from the state had a negative impact on their classroom.

And that's just what the results of the survey show. When asked where the pressure comes from the teachers responded in this manner...
Does that pressure come from (check all that apply)

  • Yourself 57.1%
  • Your school administrators 74.7%
  • Your school board 34.6%
  • The State Department of Education 93.4%
  • Parents 17.6%
This is the pressure that 80% of respondents said had a negative impact on the learning environment of their classroom and 78% said interfered with their ability to teach effectively....so yes, Ms. Sample, I think parents would care about the pressure teachers feel. What are you and the Indiana Department of Education doing to help improve the atmosphere in the public schools of Indiana?

The unspoken implication in Ms. Sample's comment is that teachers don't care about parents...and by extension their children. She might think differently if she and the Indiana Department of Education collaborated with and worked together with the state's teachers instead of against them in the current push to privatize education in Indiana and the US.

Click here to see the complete results of the survey.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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