Frequent assessments of student progress reduce pressure on teachers to teach to the test

Diverse Elementary ClassA major criticism of No Child Left Behind is that it puts pressure on teachers to drill students so that they will perform adequately in statewide assessments with the potential consequence of a narrowed curriculum. Texas is considered a forerunner in changes that are expected under NCLB because of its early adoption of a high-stakes testing program. To help reduce the pressure of testing on teachers and students, some school districts have implemented assessment programs that provide rapid diagnostic information about student progress to teachers. .

Study: Study: “Can Rapid Assessment Moderate the Consequences of High-Stakes Testing?” by Stuart S. Yeh, Education and Urban Society, Volume 39, Number 1, November 2006, pp. 91-112.

Conclusion: Frequent assessments of student progress can give teachers a sense of greater control over student achievement and reduce the pressure teachers feel to increase test scores through whole-class drill and practice, concludes this study from Education and Urban Society. The study found that most teachers in a district that used rapid assessments had positive attitudes towards state-mandated testing and used test results to guide their teaching. Results suggest that use of a rapid feedback system can help teachers prepare students for state-mandated tests
while maintaining a balanced curriculum.

Main research question: How did teachers in a district that had used a rapid assessment system for several years view the impact of state-mandated testing on the curriculum? Did they view it as having a positive or negative effect? Did the teachers feel that district- and state-mandated test results improved instruction in a balanced way? How did teachers and administrators in the district feel about state-mandated testing?

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • Frequent assessment of student progress can reduce pressure on teachers and help them avoid teaching a narrowed curriculum. Previous research has shown that districts respond well in conditions where stakes are high, but pressure is low.
  • Providing teachers with periodic assessments of student progress supports more effective and efficient individualized instruction that keep students at
    grade level.
  • High-stakes tests may be viewed by teachers as having positive effects if a state-mandated test is aligned with the curriculum.

Participants: Teachers, administrators and other staff in the McKinney, Texas school district. The participants included 37 teachers for grades 2-12, 11 principals and assistant principals and librarians in 8 schools. The district had used a curriculum-based rapid assessment system from StandardsMaster since 1999. 

Method: Participants were interviewed individually for 50 minutes using a semi-structured interview protocol. Researchers conducted observations in 10 randomly selected classrooms and interviewed three to five randomly selected students from each classroom to assess quality of instruction.

Findings: A majority of teachers (77.6%) in this district believe that state-mandated testing had a positive impact on the curriculum. They agreed that the state-mandated test encouraged teachers to focus instruction in a positive way on key skills and knowledge. Most teachers (89.8%) reported using results from the periodic curriculum-based tests and state-mandated tests to systematically improve instruction. Teachers said they used results to identify areas of difficulty and to decide how much time to spend on particular topics. Some 65.3% reported that they used the results to identify and teach missing skills, including higher order thinking skills and basic skills. Teachers noted that the curriculum is determined by the state and that it was not the test results that caused narrowing of the curriculum.

Although one-half of the teachers (49%) reported that they have reduced the amount of time they spend on projects, almost all (91.7%)reported that they eliminated unimportant projects and refocused the remaining projects in a way that benefited students.

From Assessment for Learning: 12 recent studies on formative assessment and aligning assessments with learning goals, published by Educational Research Newsletter August 2007

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