Monday, June 20, 2011

Accountability Testing Undermines Teacher Authority, Narrows Curriculum

By Skip Kifer

Stephen Jay Gould esteemed paleontologist, MacArthur Foundation prizewinner, and award-winning author, dedicated his book "The Panda's Thumb" to three of his elementary school teachers. He was particularly grateful to his fifth grade teacher who recognized and accommodated "youngsters with a developing passion for science." Ms. Ponti, who provided materials and books, also set aside time each week for the group to sit in the back of the room and talk about science.

Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom (FayetteABC), a group of parents concerned about test-driven instruction in our schools, might rightly wonder whether something comparable to Gould's experience could happen here.

Those who manage the local school system view testing through an accountability lens, apparently believing only higher test scores mean better schools. FayetteABC notices, on the other hand, more time being spent on testing and test preparation and therefore less time and fewer opportunities to respond to the legitimate interests of children.

They are right. Research shows that an emphasis on accountability testing undermines the authority of teachers, leads to students dropping out of school earlier, and narrows the curriculum (what is tested is what is taught). In addition, studies of results on comparable assessments do not replicate score gains found on Kentucky's assessments; that is, students learn to take a particular test but do not master the instructional material upon which the test is based. And, perhaps even more problematic, because of the imprecision of educational measurements, tens of thousands of Kentucky kids each year when given the labels of Novice, Apprentice, Proficient, or Distinguished are given incorrect ones; e.g., students are labeled proficient when they are not or are not labeled proficient when they are.

It is good that FayetteABC has sounded the alarm about these excesses because even more accountability testing is forthcoming. At the Federal level, the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act (No Child Left Behind) will surely contain more testing because of a misguided attempt to use test scores to measure teacher performance. At the state level Senate Bill 1 is, at best, just more testing. In addition, Kentucky is part of both consortia that will build new assessments for what are called the Common Core Standards. Those tests are expected to do so many things that inevitably there will be just more testing. Finally, Fayette county schools, beginning in kindergarten, do still more of their own testing and preparing for tests, over and above what is done to meet federal and state requirements.

Informed citizens in a democratic society have an obligation to make schools their own. More than anything FayetteABC wants parents, teachers, and administrators to engage in a conversation about effects of test-driven instruction upon Fayette County children. Although state and federal laws mandate testing, they do not mandate the effect that this testing currently has on classroom instruction. FayetteABC presented their concerns to the Fayette County Board of Education, asking that body to endorse a more balanced approach to instruction in our schools, particularly in the current search for a new superintendent.

FayetteABC has an online petition signed by nearly 400 county residents from at least 14 different schools and 16 zip codes that continues to grow, speaking to the scope of their concerns in Fayette County. They have produced an informative website that I would encourage interested and concerned parents to peruse:

Almost anyone you talk to has a favorite teacher who greatly influenced him or her. In all of the years I have heard persons talk about that teacher, the testimonials were of the Gould variety. I have never heard someone say his or her most influential teacher increased a test score.


Dylan Miskell said...

To start off, I would like state that I am not totally against accountability testing in the state of Kentucky. Now I will say that overall, the education background of an individual school system or a full district for that matter should never be decided fully on the test scores of certain subjects. As a secondary school educator, I feel that the overall life skills that our taught through arts and physical education is dwelling each year. Life skills that are created by the young minds are the reason America produces innovators, patens and noble prize winners. A standerized test such as the CATS test provides statewide test results as percentages of students scoring at any of four performance levels. Now the problem arrives due to the fact that teachers and school curriculums do not test subject such as secondary arts and exercise. Physical Education not only provides to help and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints furthermore, helps control weight, build lean muscle, and reduces fat on the outside but also enhances learning readiness, improve academic performance, enrich self-esteem, deter antisocial behavior, restrain drug and alcohol abuse, and reduce absenteeism. Now with that being said, our we as educators providing a rounded curriculum that will enhance each student if we are only testing them and the main focus is directed exclusively on work sheets and crunching numbers?

Maggi Payne said...

Standardized testing is not the issue, I believe the issue is children are not learning the correct material that is going to be placed on these tests, therefore causing them to receive lower scores. A teacher should not be held accountable, at all times, when it comes to a students low test scores, especially if they have taught the child what they have needed to learn. Sometimes students are just not good test takers plain and simple. A community needs to make the school their own as stated in this article, however there should be some standard material that should be taught. Although state and federal law make this testing a necessity, it should not be part of the instruction in the classroom. The students should not have to have this testing as a standard thing that they will have to learn about, they should be taught the necessary things for their grade level and then the testing should be something they could add on at the end of the year, making the school year longer.

Courtney Compton said...

I am not totally against standardized testing but I believe that a lot of material that students need to learn while in school is missed because of standardized testing. I believe that testing is good to ensure that students are learning material while in school and a good way to hold teacher accountable to information that needs to be taught, but I believe that a lot of things that children need to know or what to learn is missed. Teachers try to push the information that is on the test so much during the year that it takes up almost the whole school year. Also, I believe that schools need to make the standardized testing more accountable for students. I know when I was in school; none of the students in my class took the test seriously because they knew it would not affect them, only the teacher. It is not fair to put a teacher's job on the line who is actually a good teacher just because students are not taking standardized testing seriously because it does not affect them. So when it comes to standardized testing, I am split. I like the idea of standardized testing but I believe that Kentucky needs to improve and change the standardized testing in a way that will affect the students more.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased that Dr. Kifer wrote the above. I am equally pleased FayetteABC is discussing test preparation in FCPS. For the historians among us, though, could we at least mention the name of the person responsible for the exaggerated emphasis on test preparation in FCPS? The testing celebrations in which high performing students stand while the "losers" remain sitting, the three learning checks, the unveiling of the test scores, the "if it's not on the test, don't teach it" philosphy...Who was the architect of this? And most importantly, where is he now?

Kristen Jones said...

I do not think that I think accountability testing should be the only thing that schools and teachers are measured by. I agree with the statement “I have never heard someone say his or her most influential teacher increased a test score”. Teachers’ achievements in the classroom should not only be measured by tests as there are many factors in a students’ learning environment. I do think some standardized tests can be useful, however, I think that they may be used in the wrong ways. I think it is important to test students on what they are learning in the classroom, but isn’t their progress being tested throughout the year? I too remember taking these tests and not particularly caring (I hate to say) how I did. How well I did or did not do on these tests most certainly did not reflect how well my teacher taught in the classroom or my grades for the year.

Jeff Johnson said...

A teacher of mine in high school always told our class (in regards to standardized testing) "these tests don't measure your ability to think, they simply measure your ability to take tests". I agree with what he said and with what Dr. Kifer said as well. I realize there is a fine line when it comes to standardized testing because while we want students to learn and be creative, we also have to measure the progress that they are making in school in order to know if something needs to be corrected. The problem with standardized testing is it does not test a student's ability to analyze or reflect on what they have learned and relate it back to their own experiences. One cannot even begin to scratch the surface of someone's intelligence by simply asking them to fill in some bubbles. I believe there needs to be a happy medium met because in my experiences I have never met a teacher who is very supportive of standardized tests, and their views often rub off onto their students. I think there should be one national test for all grade levels that teachers can revolve their curriculum around but at the same time it would give them so freedom to do creative projects and teach areas that may not be tested for. I think at the end of the day the students are the ones we have to be most concerned about, and it seems to me that standardized tests are only appeasing to administrators and higher ups in the school systems. We need to make students want to learn and stimulate their thinking with a wide variety of content so they will stay in school because as the article mentioned, schools that are too test-based have shown higher drop out rates.

Byron Teater said...

Let me start by saying that all accountability testing is not bad; however judging everything by them is a bad idea. As a future High School teacher I think we need to find ways to promote music, dance, art, theater, or anything else creative. With creativity we can still be a country and state of inventors, song writers, so on and so forth. If we just go by what is on the test then teachers of our kids will only teach what is on the test. This would leave out so much information that is important to the students. This is even more true in my subject of study, history. If I only taught what was on the test, I would out most of the test book and many of the major themes. I would not be able to teach that President Andrew Jackson made the Cherokee march by his home in Tn. during the Trail of Tears. All I would have to teach is the U.S. acquired land by treaty. Hopefully we all know that the last statement is not true. I think we need to put our focus the students and not a standard test. We all know that there cannot and will not be a “standard student.” Every student is different and they should all be tested in a way that judges in a way fair to all types of learners.

Kristin Williams said...

As a former student of the Fayette County school system I can personally say that there is a heavy emphasis on assessment testing within the school year. I agree that there should be some measure of accountability in schools but to just teach what is on a standardized test will not create well diverse students. The FayetteABC wants teachers and administrators to reevaluate their curriculum and measure student achievement based on their performance in the classroom rather than on one specific test. Teaching a child how to only take tests will not prepare them for the real world. FayetteABC's goals include having a "balanced approach to instruction in our schools" rather than just teaching information specifically for a test. I agree that schools need to integrate more content into their curriculum to produce more rounded students that will help them be successful members of society.

Jessica Harris said...

I agree with this blog, testing is not always a sure way to judge how well a school or a teacher is doing. When curriculum is test based a lot of information is lost. For example, hidden curriculum meaning things students learn despite of the intention. More emphasis is on learning how to be a good test taker rather than the actual information. Regardless of how much effort a teacher put into the general interest of each student, if test score do not reflect that, he or she is labeled as an ineffective teacher.
I am not against standardized testing. In fact I think when examined the proper way it can show how much a student has learned. What needs to be taken into account is that testing must not be the only way to determine the performance of a school.