Taking and Teaching the Test are not the Same: A Case Study of First-Year Teachers’ Experiences in High-Stakes Contexts

From Section:
Beginning Teachers
Nov. 01, 2015
November 2015

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 21, No. 8, 1026–1044, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study explores how two first-year teachers viewed policymakers’ reforms affecting their teaching and tenure in the field.

The case study focuses on the experiences of two first-year teachers working in the same high-stakes standards-based accountability teaching context in which they were educated. The participants were two female first-year teachers who taught in a Midwestern state in the US where state policymakers put in place high-stakes reforms over 20 years ago.

Data were collected through observations and interviews.

These results show how policymakers’ high-stakes reforms impacted the development of these beginning teachers in significant ways.
The participants appeared to work in very different school environments. However, they both knew their success as first-year teachers would be determined by their students’ achievement in high-stakes exams. The participants felt pressure to prepare their students for these tests, be it from their administrators or from their own experiences as students. This pressure appeared to leave them questioning their tenure in the field.

Furthermore, the participants entered the field with experiences as students in a high-stakes education system as well as in the teacher training classroom and its required field experiences. These experiences appeared to let them know they would have to succeed in preparing their students for the high-stakes exams when they entered their own classrooms. However, each struggled in their own way to be successful at it. These struggles left them questioning whether to remain a part of the field.

Finally, one participants felt that the demand for immediate success in preparing her students for the tests led her to doubt her purpose in the classroom. Despite her feelings, her personal commitment to teaching seemed to keep her in public school classroom for at least another year.
As the second participant became aware of what her students needed to know to pass the state exit exam, this became the focus of her teaching. However, this realization came too late. Her failure to immediately know how to teach her students the tests combined with their academic performance appeared to test her out of this position and into one where the high-stakes exam might have less of an impact on her and her teaching.

Implications for teaching and teacher education
In this case study, the participants ended their first year of teaching questioning their roles in such classrooms. However, their commitment toward their work with their students appeared to keep them in the field as public school teachers. These findings reveal two implications for researchers, teacher educators, and teacher mentors.

First, the findings reveal how such a narrowing of teaching and learning can create an almost insufferable situation for beginning teachers. This may help explain why there is such a high
rate of teacher turnover in schools with large populations of diverse and low-income students.

Furthermore, both participants knew through their experiences as students and as preservice teachers that the high-stakes exams in their state would take on a significant role in their teaching. However, they both struggled with how to prepare their students for the tests while they learned and experienced their new roles in their own classrooms.

These results show how important it is for teacher educators and mentors to help novices understand the impact of context on their teaching.
These results demonstrate the need for teacher educators and mentors to help novice teachers develop the pedagogical, personal, and political skills required to succeed in high-stakes teaching contexts.

Updated: Dec. 12, 2019
Beginning teachers | Case studies | Educational change | High-stakes testing