Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teaching under High-Stakes Testing: Dilemmas and Decisions of a Teacher Educator

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teaching under High-Stakes Testing: Dilemmas and Decisions of a Teacher Educator

Article excerpt

During the 1990s, the use of standardized achievement tests for high-stakes certification of beginning teachers increased rapidly. In 1998, the reauthorization of Title II of the Higher Education Act (P.L. 105-244) mandated that institutions report pass rates of teacher education program completers on teacher tests. The majority of states use the PRAXIS I and II series of tests developed by Educational Testing Service (2003a).

The increased use of high-stakes tests for beginning teachers as well as K-12 students is part of widespread educational reform taking place in the United States. This reform has occurred among grand narratives of national decline in economic competitiveness, safety, and educational achievement (Cochran-Smith & Dudley-Marling, 2001). Reversing the decline, it is claimed, requires an imposition of new standards for instruction, curriculum, teacher training, and teacher licensure (Yinger, 1999).

Some research indicates that the standards imposed through high-stakes testing of K-12 students narrows curriculum to test-driven content and basic skills (e.g., Haney, 2000; Smith, 1991). Teachers can become "testing coaches" (Sacks, 1999) less likely to use innovative instructional practices such as cooperative learning, whole language, and higher order thinking activities, and they can become angry and fearful at the perceived loss of control (Cimbricz, 2002). However, other research suggests that although the tests may influence what teachers teach, they do not influence how they teach (Firestone, Mayrowetz, & Fairman, 1998). In addition, the grade level, subject matter, status, experience, and local context all influence teachers' reactions to high-stakes state testing (Cimbricz, 2002).

Research on the impact of high-stakes tests for beginning teachers on teacher education faculty is limited. Cochran-Smith and Dudley-Marling (2001) found no curricular or program changes in five institutions they studied when high-stakes tests for beginning teachers were introduced in Massachusetts in 1988. However, resources shifted to discussions about the tests and what to do about them. In addition, the high failure rate and the secrecy surrounding the content of the test contributed to morale problems of faculty and administrators as well as the grand narrative of what was wrong about teaching and teacher education. Ludlow, Shirley, and Rosca (2002) classified institutional investment in preparation for the teacher tests in Massachusetts as heavy at besieged institutions with very low pass rates, moderate at institutions with borderline pass rates, and minimal at institutions with high pass rates.

This article reports the curricular changes and testing focus that have occurred in my teaching at Cleveland State University since PRAXIS II: Principles of Learning and Teaching (PLT) tests were mandated. Reports of my experiences are augmented by the notes I routinely make for class preparation, changes in my syllabi and assessments over time, students' end-of-semester course evaluations, and theory and research in motivation. Three classroom dilemmas faced in teaching educational psychology to preservice teachers are analyzed: how much to change assessments, curriculum content, and instructional strategies. Also discussed are the benefits and costs of the increased importance of educational psychology in the teacher educational program and the advantages and disadvantages of trying to ensure that students do well on an external examination. In the final section, institutional responses to the implementation of the PRAXIS II tests are outlined. I begin by describing the context of these changes: the high-stakes test, the institution in which I work, and my own teaching experiences.

CONTEXT

In spring 2003, 16 states and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools required that teacher-education candidates pass PRAXIS II: PLT to obtain a license (Educational Testing Service [ETS], 2003a). …

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