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Another Downside of Testing: Poorer Teachers in K-2?

New research suggests that a side effect of high stakes testing is that better teachers are assigned to upper elementary grades (3-6) and less effective teachers are assigned to the primary grades (K-2).   

In a new working paper presented by Duke University researchers Sarah C. Fuller and Helen F. Ladd and funded by the Calder Center, the researchers note that the results of their study are cause for concern.  Other recent studies indicate that children’s experiences in the primary grades are good indicators of later success including college attendance and earning power.  The paper was prepared for the March 2012 meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy in Boston. TestTeach

The researchers used data from North Carolina elementary schools and measured teacher quality by credentials including years of experience and teacher licensure test scores.  Fuller and Ladd note that North Carolina has invested heavily in early childhood education programs, but that the positive effects of these programs may dissipate when children enter the early elementary grades with less qualified teachers.

Looking at the data before high stakes testing, the researchers conclude that it is difficult to determine why teachers were assigned to various grade levels.  Teacher preference, teacher availability, hiring practices and principal preferences were all part of the assignment formula, but no clear conclusions can be drawn.  After high stakes testing, however, the researchers conclude that principals may strategically place stronger teachers in the upper grades where students are tested.

Review of research in both New York and Florida after the introduction of high stakes testing concurs with the results that Fuller and Ladd found in North Carolina.  In New York, researchers found that high ability fourth grade teachers stayed in fourth grade and new teachers hired to teach fourth grade tended to be highly qualified.  In Florida, researchers found principals explicitly describing moving ineffective teachers from grades with tests to grades without tests.

Fuller and Ladd certainly raise some disturbing points.  The question that remains unanswered for me, however, is how principals expect students to catch up in grades three and four after lower quality instruction in grades K-2.  More importantly, how does it happen that principals fail to recognize how important it is to have your best teachers in the early grades where learning habits, attitudes towards school, and READING INSTRUCTION are key?  Quality learning experiences in the primary grades would guarantee success on high stakes tests, but more importantly, they would improve a child’s chances to succeed in life. 

The entire paper (“School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School”) is worth a look.  Another example of how high states testing drives instruction at the expense of kids’ education.  Oh, and by the way, third graders here in Virginia just finished two weeks – TWO WEEKS – of testing.  Two weeks of lost instructional time.









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