Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Missing in Action: Good Citizenship and Good Learning

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Missing in Action: Good Citizenship and Good Learning

Article excerpt

The author presents a position inspired by the theme of this issue: teaching the whole child. She notes four negative consequences of an exclusive and excessive emphasis on accountability and federally mandated high-stakes testing. Offering an alternative, the author explains the three learning domains and how they are interconnected and necessary for growth in student achievement. Logically, she then offers an explanation of research-based instructional practices that should be used in the classroom to improve student achievement scores instead of focusing on teaching-to-the-test and reading a scripted curriculum. She concludes with what she believes are important points for doing what is right for children.

"All learning has an emotional base."


The theme of this issue of the Bulletin, with its focus on education and the teaching and learning process, the whole child, and issues that include social, emotional, and civic development, inspired this position article. After reading the topics for the theme, I realized they are my soap-box issues that not only all go together but also have serious consequences for both good education for all children and the American way of life.

Accountability, High-stakes Testing, and Federal Mandates

Even though No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top that made standardized tests mandatory in the United States were supposed to help all children, these initiatives have, in fact, been detrimental. A 9-year study showed that these federally mandated educational policies actually hurt the learning process and undermine teacher autonomy and student engagement (Shepard, Hannaway, ÔC Baker, 2009). The conclusion of the study comes as no surprise to those who teach.

To make my position clear: There is nothing wrong with standards-based education and accountability. In fact, they have been around since 1845. However, an emphasis on high-stakes test scores has become a political tool used to damage schools, teachers, children, and the teaching and learning process. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan (2011), "Performance scores label more and more schools as 'failing,' triggering prescriptive federal mandates that eat up local and state resources and divert schools from their core mission" (para. 17).

As Shepard, Hannaway, and Baker asserted, "Accountability pressures have resulted in increased use of test data to redirect instructional efforts, extensive test-preparation practices, and increasing use of benchmark tests administered periodically to monitor progress toward mastery of standards" (2009, p. 2). In addition, school administrators and school boards have often adopted and followed a similar top-down approach. Thus, teaching has once again become a whole-class phenomenon, where the teacher is required to "teach to the test." This approach has narrowed the curriculum, created top-down mandated interventions, and siphoned considerable money away from the curriculum, not only to meet the prescriptive mandates from both the federal and state levels but also, of course, to purchase yearly grade-level tests (Becker et ah, 2013). More consequences are discussed below.

Some Negative Consequences

Unfortunately, teaching-to-the-test practices have had many detrimental effects, limited here to four major considerations. First, because social studies is not a subject that is being tested, it is often not being taught (Fdinde, 2005; Howard, 2003). Whether this omission is by accident or design, it hampers students' ability to understand their civic responsibility and, ironically, to be protected from legislators, special interest groups, school board members, and even some administrators who believe "fixing" education can be done simply by telling teachers what to teach as well as how to teach (Leithwood, 2001). Second, teaching to the test skews all effective-teaching research, which indicates that the high quality of the teacher has the most impact on student achievement (DarlingHammond, 2000). …

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