Many teachers have commented on the increased push in their schools to raise test scores, saying that unrelenting and often unreasonable expectations were causing them to reconsider the profession.
AJC reporter Heather Vogell talked to teachers about the pressure, including “war rooms” where student scores are posted as a constant prod to teachers. (I would like to personally thank the teachers from this blog who talked to Heather for her story.)
According to the story:
In a room in Atlanta’s East Lake Elementary, students’ testing stats are on display like baseball players’ batting averages. The “data room, ” or “war room, ” lays out district goals for the school. Staff can see at a glance how many students can fail state tests — and how many must score in the top tier — to make the numbers. Other Atlanta schools use variations of the setup.
The displays are a product of the data-driven approach pushed by Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall. But for teachers such as Julie Rogers-Martin, the rooms serve a second, more ominous function.
“It’s a visual pressure all the time, ” she said. “It’s always in your face. It’s always a cause for concern.”
The pressure Atlanta educators such as Rogers-Martin face is rooted in a complex set of district testing goals that are harder to reach than those set by the state.
The system has rewarded school staff who were successful with nearly $17 million in bonuses since 2001. Hitting testing targets carried career and social benefits, too.
But now, the state is asking whether some schools took shortcuts to net those impressive scores.
A state probe last month identified suspicious erasures on state tests in more than two-thirds of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools. Far more schools were flagged in Atlanta — 58 — than in any other district.
Who erased wrong answers and whether they did so to cheat is under investigation. But experts say pressure from hard-to-reach work goals and financial incentives can be a trigger for fraud.
The district-imposed testing goals are the greatest source of educators’ angst, some teachers say. In some schools, they say, making the numbers has upstaged the teaching and learning they are supposed to represent.
“You are under scrutiny every minute, ” said Rogers-Martin, a fourth-grade teacher at Burgess-Peterson Elementary.
District Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine said the district’s data-focused approach is crucial for helping students learn. The targets aim to help educators zero in on students’ academic needs.
“Using data to drive instruction is a best practice. Data is something our parents ask for, it’s something the majority of our teachers want, ” Augustine said. “I think we expect our teachers to be high performers.”
Thirteen of 22 elementary and middle schools that received bonuses for meeting testing targets last year also showed up on the state’s “severe” list of schools with high numbers of suspicious erasures.
On the issue of pressure, I wanted to share a conversation I had with a longtime teacher. She said she got into teaching because she liked working with children more than adults. She liked closing her classroom door and controlling her own little universe with rare interference from administrators.
That, she told me, has changed completely. Now, administrators are in her classroom. They are talking to her about student progress. They are suggesting new ways of doing things. She admits that part of the pressure she feels comes from the drastic changes in the profession and in education overall. She became accustomed to calling the shots and having very little interaction with her bosses.
She does not think the pressure is as great on younger teachers who entered the field under the new accountability rules and expect to have weekly meetings where they review each child’s progress with their principals.
Does the pressure on teachers stem in part from a changing world order where student data rather than teachers drive the classroom?
And is that always bad?