Teachers' Views Mixed on Testing
© 2003 The Boston Globe
March 5, 2003, Wednesday
By Michele Kurtz, Globe Staff
Teachers in places with high-stakes tests such as Massachusetts feel more pressure, spend less time on subjects not covered by the test, and believe the exams leave high school students feeling demoralized, according to two studies released yesterday.
In the two-year studies by the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College, researchers surveyed and interviewed teachers around the nation about their perceptions of how high-stakes tests like MCAS affect the classroom.
"They feel pressure and they think the kids feel it as well," said Joseph Pedulla, a professor at BC's Lynch School of Education and an author of one of the studies. "The one thing that really surprised me was a fair percentage of teachers indicating that they felt they had to teach in ways they felt went against best practice."
Pedulla's team surveyed and received responses from 4,200 teachers around the country, some in states with high-stakes tests and some in states without them.
The findings were not all negative. A majority of teachers surveyed across all states said they felt positive about their state's curriculum standards and believe their district's program is aligned with the state test. And many teachers said high-stakes tests brought needed attention to education issues.
Contrary to common criticisms of high-stakes tests, a majority of teachers also said they did not believe the tests were driving students to drop out.
A second study examined three states with different levels of tests: Massachusetts with its high-stakes MCAS, Michigan with a moderate-stakes test, and Kansas with a low-stakes test.
That study, which involved interviewing roughly 360 teachers, found that Massachusetts high school teachers viewed the MCAS graduation requirement as demoralizing to students, rather than motivating. Compared with the other two states, more Massachusetts teachers were likely to say they taught to the test and that they eliminated certain content not covered by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. A third of them viewed that narrowing as having a negative impact on teaching and learning.
But critics of the studies said that focusing on a test's content is not necessarily bad. "Usually with a good test, preparation for a test is academic content," said Jay Greene, who has studied high-stakes testing for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. "Maybe the content teachers used to choose is worse."