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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Study: High-Stakes Tests Have No Effect On Achievement; NAEP Report: No Child is Working; Pressure C

Study: High-Stakes Tests Have No Effect On Achievement

A recently released national study conducted by professors at Arizona State and the University of Texas at San Antonio found no evidence linking high-stakes testing pressure with student achievement. In addition, the results indicate that increases in testing pressure actually lead to higher dropout rates.

"Today's students are being trained to take a test rather than being educated to solve the problems that those tests are supposed to represent," says David Berliner, an author of the study. "These tests are turning kids into the kind of rote learners we laughed about in countries like India and Japan."

To conduct the study, the researchers developed a pressure index for each state, based on the amount of pressure in its accountability system. Next, they determined whether a relationship could be established between pressure and student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"As a result of high-stakes testing, the curriculum is narrowed and dropout rates are higher," says Teri Moblo, director of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, the think tank that commissioned this study. Moblo says there is a role for these tests, along with other ways to evaluate students.

Sharon Nichols, a co-author of the study, agrees that we need to find additional methods for assessment. "The single test-score process doesn't pay attention to the process of learning, different forms of learning or knowledge application," she says. Rather than looking at a group snapshot every year, she'd like to follow individual students. "We need to get into the school climate and hold teachers accountable to themselves in a fair way," she says.

Pressure Comparisons Across the States

Defining Highly Qualified

Let's start with the good news: More than half of the states say that 90 percent or more of their core classes are taught by highly qualified teachers. Now the bad news: Every state has its own definition of highly qualified. Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, has a lot to say about teacher accountability.

Q: What bothers you about NCLB's "highly qualified teachers" provisions?

A: NCLB is primarily focused on holding schools accountable for results but, in return, giving them more flexibility about how to achieve those results. With the highly qualified teachers provision, we've gone back to old-fashioned, top-down regulation focused on paper credentials instead of on student learning.

Q: You've been quoted as saying that the state rules for determining teacher quality do little to ensure the subject-matter knowledge of veteran teachers.

A: Congress gave states a lot of leeway in showing that teachers demonstrate subject matter competently. States designed systems that have not changed the playing field at all in terms of teacher quality, at least for experienced teachers. Virtually all teachers will be declared highly qualified. It's a huge missed opportunity.

Q: Can you think of any way to fix this system?

A: The number-one factor related to student achievement that schools can control is teacher quality. The best way to figure out who's effective is to look at the gains students make over time. We have to reward those teachers and coach the ones whose students aren't making progress to improve or to leave the profession.