Teaching to and Beyond the Test: The Influence of Mandated Accountability Testing in One Social Studies Teacher’s Classroom

Jun. 01, 2013

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 115, No. 6, June 2013, p. 1-32.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author presents an extended and fine-grained analysis of the influence of state-mandated accountability testing on one social studies teacher’s classroom practice and thinking about curriculum.
A number of research questions frame this study:
How did mandated accountability testing influence this teacher’s teaching practice and thinking about curriculum?
What was the primary influence that shaped her teaching?

This case study, grounded in the narrative inquiry tradition, examines one specific context and draws from over two years of weekly observational data as well as extensive interview data.


Two main findings are presented in this article.
First, this study sheds light on the problems and frustrations that one teacher faces when confronted with a testing apparatus that limits her instructional time with students and an accountability exam that emphasizes a “bare bones” approach to content.

The author argues that during his two and a half years in Margaret’s classroom, he has consistently observed a skilled teacher work to meet the accountability demands imposed on her by the state and the local school district, as well as her own learning goals for students.

However, Margaret still feels the need to make selective choices about how to allocate her instructional time with students.
This study, then, illustrates how the goals of teaching to and beyond a mandated accountability exam can be reconciled and do not necessarily represent inherently conflicting interests but rather compete for time in the classroom, as policymakers create conditions that squeeze teachers’ instructional options.

Second, the data add support to the viewpoint that while state-mandated accountability testing does influence classroom teaching, teachers’ beliefs about subject matter and their goals for students play an equal role in shaping their classroom practice.

The author argues that Margaret’s teaching seems to be equally guided by her belief that students need a rich understanding of history as well as a broad factual foundation from which to develop higher-level thinking.
Thus, this study offers support for the argument that the influence state-mandated testing has on classroom teaching depends on how teachers interpret state testing and let it guide their actions.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2014