N.C. Teachers Criticize Tests

K-12 Testing

According to a new survey of North Carolina elementary teachers, the state's testing program, called the ABCs of Public Education, has harmed both students and teachers, provoked increased student anxiety, and fostered negative teacher attitudes towards low scoring students. Two-thirds of survey respondents said they believe the testing program will not improve education at their schools.


The survey results, released by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) educators and graduate students, showed that 52 percent of the respondents thought that teachers have begun to view low scoring students more negatively, and that slightly more claim they would consider leaving their school if it was designated as low performing. Close to 90 percent said they felt labeled based on their school's performance on the test.


Teachers also gave low marks to the test for reducing their morale and said the test made teaching "much more stressful." Student anxiety has risen in relation to the test, according to 61 percent of teachers, and almost half said the test had reduced students' "love of learning." In contrast, less than a third--28 percent--reported that students were more prepared for learning due to the ABC program, even though over half reported spending more than 40 percent of their school time having students practice for the tests.


Required by a 1997 state law, the ABC program has evoked controversy over the state's ranking of schools based on individual student test scores. The same law required teachers in low scoring schools to take a new competency test, a requirement later dropped after an intensive campaign of lobbying and litigation (See Examiner, Summer 1998). Schools receiving low student scores may still be sanctioned.


"This was a policy mandate that was required of teachers, but information from teachers was being left out of the decisions," said Gail Jones, associate professor of education at UNC and one of the research authors. "Our goal was to give teachers a safe avenue to share their perspectives and concerns about this high-stakes accountability program." The results, Jones says, "contain some information that needs to be documented and looked at more closely." The mail questionnaire was completed by 236 teachers.