As early as 2001, with the implementation of accountability policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Race to the Top (RttT), there has been an increased emphasis on students standardized test scores. These policies use student’s performance on such tests as a means of funding schools, such that higher scoring schools receive more funds, and lower scoring schools receive less funds. Teachers are now being held accountable for students test scores (Valli and Buese), with negative consequences affecting them if they don’t meet the standards placed by the district. This ultimately places them under increasing pressure to improve scores.
Teachers are subject to evaluations that measure their effectiveness in the classroom. With the rise of accountability policies, a greater percentage of their evaluation is being devoted to the results of testing, magnifying the pressure to increase scores. Thus, if students don’t achieve admirable results, teachers may be subject to lower salaries, or sometimes even be dismissed (Cucchiara, Rooney, & Robertson-Kraft). A problem that arises with this method is that scores don’t measure teacher effectiveness in a reliable way, because these tests don’t reflect an accurate measure of students’ abilities (Spann); as a result, teachers may be wrongfully penalized. Furthermore, policies also play a role in teacher evaluations and mounting pressure. Schools that are overall higher performing receive benefits such as salary increases, merit pay raises and tenure decisions, while lower performing schools are penalized by staff replacements, lower funds, and school closure (Saeki, Pendergast, Segool and P. von der Embse). Many times, as a result, administrators put further pressure in teachers to perform better, as their jobs are also at stake if teachers don’t meet the required results.
A main source of pressure for many teachers is the pressure received from administrators. Because of accountability policies, the government places more pressure on districts, which place more pressure on schools, which places more pressure on teachers. This situation, called the ‘top down’ situation, has been a major cause for teacher and student stress (Franklin, Snow-Gerono), and it all stems from the government enacting such policies. Although this type of pressure is mostly felt in lower performing schools, teachers in higher performing schools also reported feeling significant pressure, as they feel responsible to perform well and not drop the school’s rating. Along with this pressure, media pressure is also significant. Many schools and districts post test scores online or on newspapers. Because test scores are publicly displayed, many teachers feel embarrassed, and anxious (Saeki, Pendergast, Segool and P. von der Embse), and they feel judged by parents and other teachers as many times, they don’t know how to interpret the scores and blame the teachers.
One result of all this pressure is that teachers often change their behaviors and result to doing whatever is necessary to achieve admirable scores. According to David Berliner, educational psychologist, there have been many incidents of cheating and helping students during testing, so teachers aren’t penalized for low results (Berliner). Furthermore, teacher morale has been decreasing in the classroom, which might be a cause for cheating. Students in the classroom end up being affected because of these changes in behavior, as teachers also resort to teaching the test, and students may not end up receiving the best education.
Increasing pressure in the workplace may cause teachers to resort to ‘teaching to the test’, as they feel it is the only effective method to raise students test scores. Furthermore, the government often times implement policies requiring the curriculum to be more standardized, forcing teachers to teach according to test material. Test preparation activities such as vocabulary lists, practice tests, and word recognition skills have increased in the classroom significantly since accountability policies have been implemented (Moon, et. Al.). Test preparation has negative effects on both teachers and students. It minimizes the development of important skills that students should have, such as critical thinking and deep analysis, while also minimizing the time teachers have to teach students other important topics that could benefit them.
One direct effect that teaching to the test has is narrowing the curriculum. Because only reading and math are tested, subjects such as arts, physical education, and social studies are often devalued. Such subjects are an important part of education, and the decreasing time spent on them has negative consequences on the education of students. The long-term effects of this situation on student education raises concerns to numerous teachers; as they worry that in the future, students will only know that of which is being tested (Franklin, Snow-Gerono). This is especially true for elementary school teachers, given that they remain in the same classroom throughout a school year, and are responsible to teach all subjects. Because of that, they are often under significant pressure, and are faced with the difficult decision of teaching only tested subjects or teaching a variety of subjects and risking the possibility of lower test scores.
Teachers have increasingly begun to feel less pleasure in their work. Since their main focus in the classroom is raising the standardized testing scores, they no longer have time to truly teach in a way that satisfies them. According to Sonya Christian, a professor of educational leadership, teachers are less concerned with discovering specific student needs and abilities (Christian), primarily because they are more focused on reaching the required scores, and as a result, don’t show interest in student engagement. This is an effect of a decreasing job satisfaction, a factor in teaching that has been dropping significantly since the rise of accountability policies.