Discussion 1

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As indicated in this chapter, the trend toward high-stakes testing has affected even the preparation of teachers themselves. Many American states now require new teachers to pass a standardized test of subject matter knowledge, and many also require them to pass a test about educational psychology—the sort of content that is the focus of this textbook (Cochran-Smith, 2003; Educational Testing Service [ETS], 2004). These changes highlight make the issues about testing very vivid—and at times anxiety-provoking—for many new teachers.
Rosemary Sutton studied the effects of high-stakes testing on her own teaching of educational psychology as well as on her undergraduate students’ responses to studying this subject (Sutton, 2004). In her state of Ohio, new teachers must all take a test called the “PRAXIS II: Principles of Learning and Teaching” (ETS, 2004). She reported experiencing a number of new instructional dilemmas as a result of this test being introduced as a requirement for teacher licensing and certification, and she described how she resolved them. The effects of the dilemmas and of her solutions to them were not uniform, but depended on the particular feature of the course.
One negative effect was that Professor Sutton felt more pressure to cover as much of the content of the PRAXIS in her course as possible, so that students could be prepared as well as possible for the test. Doing so, however, meant covering more material and therefore reducing depth of coverage of certain topics. This was a serious problem, she feared, because some parts of the course became more shallow or fragmented. She also had less time for open-ended discussions that truly followed interests expressed by the students.
On the other hand, Professor Sutton also reported diversifying her teaching methods—for example by using more group work and less lecturing—as a way to make class sessions more interesting and motivating, and therefore insuring that students learned the increased material as well as possible. She also began using more assignments that resembled the PRAXIS test itself. In this case imitating the PRAXIS meant giving “case study quizzes” throughout the semester, which were featured prominently on the PRAXIS. The quizzes consisted of short anecdotes or stories followed by open-ended questions which students answered the space of a few sentences or brief paragraph. Since the students knew that the quizzes were a type of preparation for licensing, they tolerated them well, and even welcomed them. She and the students felt as if they were “on the same side”, working together to help the students pass their exam. The relationship was therefore more positive and less “conflicted” compared to earlier times when Professor Sutton was expected not only to teach the students, but also to evaluate them.

With the introduction of the licensing exam, finally, some students seemed to regard educational psychology as more important than in the past—even using university break weeks for additional study of the textbook! On the other hand, some students seemed to worry about their performance on the test, and their anxiety may have interfered with learning about educational psychology itself. Their worries created a dilemma that Professor never truly resolved: how to get students to prepare for the test seriously without arousing undue worry or anxiety in them? Questions

? How well do you feel that Professor Sutton’s dilemmas about high-stakes testing reflect the dilemmas that public school teachers might face in preparing their own students for high- stakes tests?
? On balance, and taking into account Professor Sutton’s experience, do you think that high- stakes tests are desirable?