Research shows high-stakes testing can also produce unintended consequences that fall short of outright cheating. Daniel Koretz, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert in educational testing, writes in Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, that there are seven potential teacher responses to high-stakes tests:
1. Working more effectively (Example: finding better methods of teaching)
2. Teaching more (Example: spending more time overall)
3. Working harder (Example: giving more homework or harder assignments)
4. Reallocation (Example: shifting resources, including time, to emphasize the subjects and types of questions on the test)
5. Alignment (Example: matching the curriculum more closely to the material covered on the test)
6. Coaching students (Example: prepping students using old tests or even the current test)
Anya Kamenetz, in her article on why the Atlanta testing scandal matters, lists these seven possible outcomes of high stakes testing. She cites outcomes 1-3 as positives. My response was that only the first outcome is really a positive. I’m probably making too many assumptions, though.
My first assumption is that outcome four will always happen: a test will determine what is taught. So teaching more or making students work harder will only mean that they learn how to take the test, not necessarily that they learn what they need to. And yes, I know that “learn what they need to” opens a huge can of worms. Obviously, if the test is testing what they need to learn, then it’s a good thing.
My second assumption is that more teaching and more hard work are good up to a point. My strong suspicion is that we’ve passed that point along while ago, and that the extra work forced on students is counter productive.
These are both assumptions, and I have more to learn in this area, but I wanted to capture these assumptions while they were still fresh in my mind.