Teachers being led away in handcuffs and facing sentences usually reserved for members of organized crime families is as clear an indicator as any that high-stakes testing in this country has truly run amok. While there has often been a focus on what over testing does to students, the criminal actions of the eleven teachers convicted in the Atlanta cheating scandal are examples of what over zealous data-driven education policy does to educators.
It is undeniable that those participating in the cheating related activities committed not just one crime, but many of the defendants committed a series of crimes. The issues which should be scrutinized is the environment which was created that made these teachers feel like changing grades and giving students the correct answer were the right things to do. What does a focus on test scores in the name of data driven instruction mean for teachers in certain districts? It means the difference between being employed and being able to support yourself and your family and the humiliation of being dismissed and attempting to secure a job at another school or change careers all together.
The pressure cooker of over-crowded classrooms, negative public perception of the profession, funding cuts, and increasing emphasis on test scores as the only indicator of student achievement is already having seismic repercussions. As recently reported by NPR, California, New York, and Texas, the states which produce the most teachers, have been experiencing steady declines in enrollment for teacher preparation programs over the last few years. The fact that two out of those three states are also home to the two largest public school systems should make these dips in enrollment especially troubling. In fact, the decline is so widespread that alternative certification programs have also noticed troubling declines in both enrollment and retention. Teach for America, the longtime salve on the gaping wounds of high needs districts and by some accounts the organization which mints the most new teachers, has experienced a ten percent decline in enrollment breaking a fifteen year period of growth.
What can be done to stem the bleeding? For starters, we need to come to grips with the fact that not all students learn in the same fashion or at the same rate and stop measuring their progress if this wasn’t the case. Secondly, we need to come to grips with the fact that not all students begin each grade on grade level and that severely hampers the likelihood that they’ll be able to test at grade level by the end of the year. Thirdly, a teacher’s job is so much more than a student’s score on an exam and we all need to stop acting like that’s the case. Fourthly, teachers are not the only determining factor on how a student performs, so we need to stop acting like they are.
The imposition of high-stakes testing was supposed to result in real education reform and the closing of the achievement gap. The imposition of high-stakes testing is actually causing teachers and would-be teachers to leave the profession in droves or engage in criminal activity. If this trend continues the only thing anybody will achieve will be more crowded classrooms with even fewer quality teachers.