NoChildLeftBehind - Journal of Economic PerspectivesVolume 24 Number 3Summer 2010Pages 151166 Teachers Views on No Child Left Behind Support for the

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Unformatted text preview: Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 24, Number 3—Summer 2010—Pages 151–166 Teachers’ Views on No Child Left Behind: Support for the Principles, Concerns about the Practices Richard J. Murnane and John P. Papay “ W hat can we do to make Adequate Yearly Progress?” “What will happen if we fail to make AYP again?” These questions are dominant topics of conversation in teacher lunchrooms across the nation. They illustrate the influence that the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) has had on the work of millions of public school teachers in the United States. The legislation, which took effect in 2002, requires that each state administer annual tests in mathematics and English Language Arts in grades 3 through 8 and once again in high school. (Science testing requirements took effect in 2008–09.) The legislation mandates that all students be “proficient,” as defined by the state, by 2014 and that every school must make Adequate Yearly Progress towards meeting this goal, not only overall, but for a number of demographic subgroups within each school. Schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress for several years face increasingly stringent sanctions. In addition, schools must comply with several other requirements, including the provision that all teachers must be “highly qualified,” as defined by the state. In this article, we describe teachers’ views of the behavioral responses the No Child Left Behind legislation has elicited and the extent to which research reveals evidence of these responses and their effects on the distribution of student achievement. We begin with two broad warnings about any attempts to characterize the views of teachers as a group: No Child Left Behind has played out very differently in different states, and studies of teacher opinions typically suffer from selection bias. We then focus on teachers’ reactions to three aspects of NCLB that are particularly Richard J. Murnane is the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society and John P. Papay is an advanced doctoral student, both at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their e-mail addresses are 〈[email protected]〉 and 〈 [email protected]〉. [email protected][email protected]〉 ■ doi=10.1257/jep.24.3.151 152 Journal of Economic Perspectives relevant to them: 1) the testing requirements and the rules determining Adequate Yearly Progress; 2) the sanctions imposed on schools that fail to meet AYP; and 3) the requirement that all teachers of core academic subjects be “highly qualified” in their areas of teaching assignment. Overall, we find that teachers overwhelmingly support the principles underlying the No Child Left Behind legislation, including that schools should be held accountable for educating all children well. However, teachers are concerned that the incentives created by some provisions of the law have elicited unintended responses that reduce the quality of education provided to at least some children. These behavioral responses vary widely across settings and depend on the quality of a state’s standards and assessments, the amount of support school districts provide for instructional improvement, and the quality of leadership in schools. Difficulties in Determining Teachers’ Views of No Child Left Behind Any attempt to characterize the beliefs of teachers as a group about the No Child Left Behind legislation faces several difficulties. First, there is substantial heterogeneity across states in their existing test-based accountability policies and their implementation of the law. Within states, there is also a great deal of variation in school policies and resources, which may lead teachers to experience the legislation in different ways. Second, many efforts to evaluate teachers’ opinions suffer from various kinds of sample selection bias—the schools and teachers who participate in these studies are not necessarily representative of schools and teachers across the country. Variation across and within States The No Child Left Behind legislation overlaid federal law and regulations on state standards-based accountability systems. Some states, including Texas, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Florida, had developed comprehensive test-based accountability systems well before the passage of NCLB. In fact, the Texas school accountability program served as one model for NCLB legislation. Other states began the process of developing these systems as a result of the federal mandate. None of the teachers in our focus groups could differentiate between NCLB and their state accountability system, and almost all attributed their concerns about test-based accountability to NCLB. However, in many states, concerns about dysfunctional responses to test-based accountability antedate NCLB and would still be present if NCLB were repealed. The federal legislation provides considerable discretion to states in implementing their accountability provisions. In particular, states can develop their own academic content standards, choose the tests they will administer, and specify the minimum scores students must obtain to be declared “proficient.” Some states, such as Massachusetts, have invested in the development of quite rigorous examinations that are closely aligned with detailed and demanding academic standards. Other states have chosen off-the-shelf tests that are only loosely aligned with academic standards, or Richard J. Murnane and John P. Papay 153 have specified relatively low requirements for students to be deemed “proficient.” The variation in proficiency requirements is illustrated in Figure 1, which shows the mathematics proficiency standards across states, as measured on the scale used to assess skill on the nationally representative National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics examination (methods for these comparisons are described in Bandeira de Mello, Blankenship, and McLaughlin, 2009). As Figure 1 shows, the proficiency standards in some states are higher than the score of 299 that the National Assessment of Educational Progress designates as proficient for grade 8, while the proficiency standards in other states are considerably below the NAEP standard. For example, the Massachusetts standard is at 302 points on the NAEP scale, but the Tennessee standard is 234 points. This pattern reflects both the rigor of standards and the degree of score inflation over time on the state test (which will be discussed below). This variation across states in content standards, assessments, and proficiency standards is problematic. Many teachers are critical of pressure to improve students’ scores on tests they feel are not well aligned with academic standards respected by the teachers and that do not reflect mastery of skills students need to thrive in twenty-first century America. Within states, the challenges that school districts and particular schools face in meeting the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions of the No Child Left Behind legislation also vary widely, even among schools facing the same academic standards. Schools serving significant numbers of economically disadvantaged children, children with limited English proficiency, and those with special needs find it especially difficult to make AYP. The human and financial resources available to meet the accountability challenges posed by NCLB vary widely across schools and districts. For teachers in some schools, AYP is a challenge they have, to date, been able to meet with consistently good teaching. For teachers in other schools, even Herculean efforts to improve teaching will not produce test scores that satisfy AYP requirements. For teachers in the first group of schools, NCLB may be an annoyance, but no more. For teachers in the second group of schools, especially those teaching grades 3–8 (in which student testing is mandatory), NCLB may threaten their jobs. Finally, teachers’ views of No Child Left Behind are sensitive to the school context and, in particular, to the quality of school-site leadership. In fact, some teachers in schools serving large numbers of disadvantaged students expressed concerns about pressure from administrators to raise student test scores without clear guidance about how to do so in a way that benefits students. Other teachers, though, reported that external pressures were not a serious burden because teachers in their school already held each other accountable for student performance (Szczesiul, 2009). Thus, differences in the challenges that teachers face and the resources available to them contribute to the variation in teachers’ views of NCLB. Self-Selection of Respondents We collected evidence of teachers’ views about the No Child Left Behind legislation in three ways, each of which is informative, but each of which also has distinct limitations. First, we gathered information from past surveys of teachers drawn 154 Journal of Economic Perspectives Figure 1 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Scale Equivalent Scores for Grades 4 and 8 Mathematics Standards for Proficient Performance, by State: 2007 Grade 4 Grade 8 NAEP Basic (214) NAEP Proficient (249) 254 Massachusetts 245 Missouri 245 South Carolina 240 Washington 239 Vermont 239 * New Hampshire 238 Hawaii 237 Minnesota 236 Rhode Island 236 Maine 234 Montana 233 New Mexico 231 North Carolina 230 Florida 229 Kentucky 229 Arkansas 228 * Indiana 226 North Dakota 226 California 225 Delaware 225 Ohio 224 South Dakota 224 Nevada 223 Pennsylvania 223 Louisiana 222 Wisconsin 220 Connecticut 220 Oregon 220 New Jersey 220 Iowa 219 * Virginia 219 New York 219 Kansas 217 Idaho 217 Texas 217 West Virginia 216 Wyoming 216 Alaska 213 Arizona 213 * Georgia 213 * Oklahoma 208 Illinois 206 Maryland 205 * Alabama 204 Mississippi 204 * Michigan 201 Colorado 198 Tennessee District of Columbia – Nebraska – Utah – 180 NAEP Basic (262) NAEP Proficient (299) South Carolina Massachusetts Hawaii Missouri Washington Minnesota Maine New Mexico Vermont New Hampshire Montana Wyoming Rhode Island Kentucky North Dakota Maryland Arkansas New York New Jersey Delaware Pennsylvania South Dakota Kansas North Carolina Texas Arizona Louisiana Nevada Indiana Florida Alaska Ohio Idaho Iowa Oregon Mississippi Wisconsin Michigan Colorado Virginia West Virginia Alabama Connecticut Illinois Oklahoma Georgia Tennessee California District of Columbia Nebraska Utah 230 280 330 NAEP Scale Equivalents 312 302 294 289 286 286 286 285 284 282 281 279 279 279 279 278 277 273 272 272 271 271 270 270 268 268 267 267 266 266 265 265 265 264 262 262 262 260 259 259 * 253 253 252 251 249 243 234 – – – – 180 230 280 330 NAEP Scale Equivalents Source: Reproduced from Bandeira de Mello, Blankenship, and McLaughlin (2009). Data from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2007 Mathematics Assessments, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, EDFocus SY 2006–07, Washington, DC, 2008. The National Longitudinal School-Level State Assessment Score Database (NLSLSASD) 2008. – State assessment data not available. * Relative error greater than .5. Teachers’ Views on No Child Left Behind 155 from well-specified sampling frames. Most of these surveys focused on teachers’ views of test-based accountability, rather than specifically on NCLB. An example is the National Survey on State Testing Programs (Pedulla, Abrams, Madaus, Russell, Ramos, and Miao, 2003). One strength of this approach is that, in principle, it is possible to generalize the results to a broader population. However, this strength is undercut by the relatively low response rate in most national studies: for example, only 35 percent of teachers surveyed responded to the National Survey on State Testing Programs. Other surveys have higher response rates, but they typically focus on individual districts or states as part of a larger, in-depth analysis. As a result, the districts that agree to participate in such studies may not be representative. Studies in which researchers interviewed in-depth samples of teachers provide a second source of data. For example, RAND examined the experiences of teachers with No Child Left Behind in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania (Hamilton et al., 2007). An advantage of data drawn from studies of this type is that they typically provide a great deal of information about the context in which the reporting teachers work. However, these studies also tend to suffer from self-selection, in that teachers with strong views about NCLB are more likely to take the time for in-depth interviews. Finally, we conducted focus groups in which we asked teachers to share their views of the No Child Left Behind legislation. We conducted four focus groups with approximately 25 participants. One strength of this type of data collection is that participants often disagreed, and we could probe the sources of the divergent views. Again, however, self-selection is a problem in that teachers with strong views about NCLB were the most likely to volunteer to participate in the focus groups. We included teachers at schools across the country, most of whom had experience in urban education. However, our respondents were either current teachers in Massachusetts school districts, teachers attending summer professional development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, or current graduate students at Harvard who had taught in U.S. public schools in the previous year. Thus, our results do not generalize to the full teaching population. Testing and Accountability Many teachers believe that No Child Left Behind has increased pressure on states to develop rigorous content standards and curriculum along with tests that align with those standards. They applaud this response. For example, expert teachers interviewed by Barnett Berry (2007) “believe that NCLB and its accountability measures have set clearer expectations for what students need to learn and what teachers need to teach.” One large national survey of teachers conducted by MetLife found that 53 percent of teachers in 2008 reported that their school had “excellent” academic standards, up from just 26 percent in 1984 (Markow and Cooper, 2008). In a study of educators in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, RAND researchers found that “teachers reported an increased focus on student achievement in their schools as a result of NCLB, as well as increased curriculum 156 Journal of Economic Perspectives coordination and increased rigor of the school’s curriculum” (Hamilton et al., 2007). Thus, teachers credit NCLB with sparking the development of academic content standards and focusing attention on academic achievement for all students. Another benefit of the No Child Left Behind legislation that many teachers report is greater attention to identifying the specific skill deficiencies of lowachieving children in mathematics and English Language Arts and to developing strategies to enhance these skills. One of the most common strategies has been to increase the amount of time in the school day devoted to English Language Arts and mathematics instruction. For example, according to teacher reports in the Schools and Staffing Survey (a nationally representative survey carried out periodically by the U.S. Department of Education), the amount of time devoted to teaching mathematics in U.S. elementary schools increased by 40 percent between 2000 and 2003 (Hannaway and Hamilton, 2008). There is some evidence that students’ performances on national tests have improved as a result of this focus, although the extent to which the score increases can be attributed to No Child Left Behind is less clear. Dee and Jacob (2009) find that NCLB led to a modest improvement in scores of eighth graders in all parts of the achievement distribution on the National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics examination, but no improvement in scores in any part of the achievement distribution on the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth grade examination of reading skills. Score Infl ation While teachers applaud the attention that No Child Left Behind has brought to the importance of developing all students’ skills in English Language Arts and mathematics, they often express concern about pressures to focus instructional time on preparation for the state tests, or “test prep.” Many teachers express the belief that while test prep may increase students’ scores on these tests, it does not provide students with skills and knowledge that they can apply to other tasks. Teachers report that score inflation—an improvement in students’ test scores with no improvement in their underlying proficiency—is rampant, a consequence of focusing instruction on preparation for a particular test. According to a national survey, 40 percent of all teachers “reported that they had found ways to raise state test scores without really improving learning” (Abrams, 2004). Many teachers resent taking time away from activities they believe are valuable to students to focus attention so directly on a single test. This belief contributes to teachers’ perceptions that increases in student scores on the state tests do not reflect actual increases in students’ human capital. For example, in a survey of Texas reading teachers, half of the respondents reported that the state’s rapid improvement on the Texas reading test did not “reflect increased learning and higher quality teaching” (Hoffman, Assaf, and Paris, 2001). A growing body of evidence supports these teacher perceptions. For example, Jacob (2007) examined four states and found much faster growth trends on the state tests than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), even in cases where the state tests were supposed to reflect the same level of difficulty from year to Richard J. Murnane and John P. Papay 157 year. Other researchers have found similar results in individual states (for example, Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey, and Stecher, 2000; Koretz and Barron, 1998). Some of this pattern stems from a focus on test preparation. Some of it also stems from strategic but dysfunctional responses to the pressure to increase the percentage of test-takers whose scores meet the proficiency standard. For example, Figlio (2006) found that schools in Florida disciplined students differently based on their likely performance on an upcoming state test; students with lower test scores were much more likely to be suspended from school than their peers with higher test scores around the time of the year when the state administered the accountability test. The evidence that increases in scores on high-stakes tests do not reflect increases in skills and knowledge that students can demonstrate on other assessments is, in our view, the most compelling evidence supporting teachers’ criticisms of test-based accountability. Koretz (2008) offers a clear statement of the test score inflation argument. Focusing on “Bubble Kids” Another concern stems from the Adequate Yearly Progress formula, which is based on the percentage of students in each subgroup who meet the proficiency standard, not on the amount of academic progress students make during a school year. Teachers report pressure to focus attention on “bubble kids,” those close to the proficiency threshold, at the expense of the most academically able students who will meet the proficiency standard in any case and the especially low-achieving students who are unlikely to meet the proficiency standard even if given a great amount of attention (Booher-Jennings, 2005). Several studies provide evidence showing that the incentives implicit in the Adequate Yearly Progress formula did change the shape of the distribution of student achievement as measured by scores on particular tests. For examp...
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