An overwhelming majority of Ohio’s most-recognized teachers believe that the state’s standardized proficiency tests are harming education. Among their concerns: that teachers spend too much time preparing students for the tests, that the tests do not encourage good teaching and learning, and that districts rely too much on the tests to make decisions, even though the tests are not a good way to assess either students or teachers.
These findings are based on my recent study of National Board Certified Teachers in Ohio. Although I suspected that most teachers did not support high-stakes testing, I did not expect such strongly and overwhelmingly negative views from a group that has historically supported “higher standards,” accountability, and high-stakes testing.
The survey led me to a disturbing conclusion. If close to 90 percent of National Board Certified Teachers (considered by some as the most professionally qualified of teachers) believe that students and classroom cultures are being considerably harmed by the state’s accountability, standards, and testing initiatives, the State of Ohio has neither professional support nor ethical basis for such policies.
Surveys were sent to the 669 National Board Certified Teachers in Ohio and 191 usable surveys were returned before the cutoff date of Dec. 1, 2000.
The survey contained 29 statements and teachers were asked to indicate whether they strongly agreed, slightly agreed, slightly disagreed, or strongly disagreed. Three broad issues were surveyed: the effects and value of standardized state proficiency testing; formulation of educational policy; and classroom climate.
Ohio students currently take the state’s proficiency tests in grades four, six, eight and 12. The Ohio Department of Education, Governor Bob Taft, and economic elites have proposed legislation that would triple testing, link teachers’ salaries to test scores, and prevent students from moving up grade levels or graduating if they do not pass the tests. One of the major implications of this study is that the National Board Certified Teachers believed high-stakes testing was extremely invasive even before the latest legislation.
Ninety-six percent of respondents believed (76 percent strongly) that standardized tests are not the best assessment of student success and 91 percent feel (74 percent strongly) that teachers’ assessments are better than standardized tests. Moreover, National Board Certified Teachers believe, overwhelmingly, that standardized tests are not a strong predictor of student success (91 percent, 68 percent strongly), that standardized tests are a weak predictor of students’ creativity (97 percent, 89 percent strongly), and that standardized tests are not a strong predictor of students’ success in college (85 percent, 62 percent strongly).
An overwhelming majority of the teachers felt strongly that certain groups in particular are experiencing less academic achievement as a result of standardized tests. Ninety-four percent (60 percent strongly) believe this is the case with children of color and 93 percent (65 percent strongly) with low-income children.
Teachers were also consistent in their lack of support for policies that penalized for low-test scores. Ninety-six percent of teachers (89 percent strongly) believed that teachers should not be financially rewarded for high standardized test scores or penalized for low test scores (97 percent, 94 percent strongly). Moreover, 97 percent (94 percent strongly) believed that state funding should not be based upon test scores.
National Board Certified Teachers were asked who “should” and who “is” having a major voice in the development of educational policy in Ohio. Every teacher (100 percent) believes that teachers should have a major voice in the development of educational policy, but only 20 percent believe that teachers currently do have a major voice. A large majority of respondents (80 percent) indicated that parents should have a major voice, but only 21 percent said that parents do play a role. Some 99 percent believe that legislators have the greatest voice in the development of educational policy, while only 21 percent believe they should.
Overwhelmingly, the survey respondents (83 percent or more) said that the Ohio Department of Education had the greatest influence on curriculum (95 percent), that education policy in Ohio was headed in the wrong direction (85 percent), and that the newest reform efforts would not motivate teachers to do a better job (84 percent). A large majority of teachers believed that their opinions were not respected by the State Department of Education (66 percent).
When asked how their instruction has changed to meet state expectations, an overwhelming number of teachers were adamant that the changes have not been for the better. Eighty-eight percent believe that high-stakes tests have lessened teacher autonomy in the classroom and 88 percent believe (61 percent strongly) that Ohio educational policy discourages the arts in the classroom. Most important, 98 percent believe (80 percent strongly) that students spend too much time preparing for tests and 91 percent feel (69 percent strongly) that high-stakes tests do not support developmentally appropriate practices for students.
There was an overwhelming belief (88 percent, 60 percent strongly) that high-stakes tests were the most important factor used by their districts to promote students; yet a resounding number of teachers responded (97 percent, 86 percent strongly) that testing has negatively affected students’ “love of learning.”
The views expressed by National Board Certified Teachers in the study confirm the extent to which an overwhelming number of extremely caring, committed, and creative educators believe that education is headed in an unhealthy direction. Further, this phenomenon is by no means limited to Ohio. Much of the context for my study, as well as the conditions that Ohio National Board Certified Teachers describe, are similar to those in other states (See, for example, Jones et al.‘s 1999 study of North Carolina teachers’ opinions on accountability, the recent Public Agenda Survey of teachers’ attitudes, and Linda McNeil’s study of testing policies in Texas.) Each study reinforces the idea that educators believe that classroom instruction is becoming synonymous with test preparation, ultimately resulting in losses of autonomy, insight, creativity, and love of learning for both students and teachers.
There is a pressing need, then, for additional research that both captures the joys, pain, and perceptions of teachers and, at the same time, conveys it to the public. Most parents continue to be unaware that many elementary school teachers report that children are wetting their pants, throwing up, and developing rashes as a result of greater accountability and high-stakes testing. Moreover, most parents do not realize that many teachers fear administrative retaliation if they speak out against the injustices of the new wave of educational reform (see Rapp, 2001).
It is my hope that future research will emphasize how the perspectives of teachers, parents, and students can be used to engage, provoke, and incite the public into reclaiming their legitimate role in policy formation. I shudder to consider who will be running our schools and what values will be emphasized 10 years from now if teachers’ and parents’ perspectives continue to be factored out of the debate.
Beldon, Russenello, & Stewart. (November, 2000). “Making the grade: Teachers’ attitudes towards academic standards and state testing.” Conducted for Education Week. Washington, DC.
Jones, M.G., Jones, B.D., Hardin, B., Chapman, L., et al. (1999). “The impact of high-stakes testing on teachers and students in North Carolina.” Phi Delta Kappan, 81(3), 199-203.
Legislative Office of Education Oversight. (September 12, 2000). Proficiency testing, student achievement, and local educational practices: Draft report for committee discussion. Columbus, OH.
McNeil, L.M. (2000). Contradictions of school reform: Educational costs of standardized testing. New York: Routledge.
Rapp, D. (2001). “On secrets, lies, and silence: A plea to educational leaders.” Accepted for publication in the International Journal of Leadership in Education.
Rose, L.C., & Gallop, A.M. (2000). “The 32nd annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallop poll of the public’s attitudes towards the public schools.” Phi Delta Kappan, 82(1), 41-57.