The influence of classroom instruction and test preparation on school accountability levels

Karen Adair Carter Bryant

Abstract

Federal and state educational agencies provide guidelines for public schools across the United States to follow (Linn, 2008; Levy, 2008). During a time of high-stakes testing fueled by school accountability standards, educators strive to meet requirements for academic growth in order to maintain a successful accountability level and avoid being labeled as a school under improvement (Behrent, 2009; Hardman & Dawson, 2008). Some argue that the demands of accountability standards pressure administrators and teachers to provide less than adequate instruction in order to focus on the content of mandatory state tests (Abrams & Madaus, 2003; Anderson, 2009; Behrent, 2009; Hamilton, 2003; Neill, 2003; Pedulla, 2003). This study examined the instructional strategies prevalent in public schools across the state of Mississippi. The study compared instructional strategies supported by research with test practice activities and the relationships of each to school accountability levels. Other components under investigation included school poverty levels, instructional materials, test prep materials, and teacher opinions about mandatory state testing. The results indicated that for the sample in this study, instructional strategies did not predict accountability levels, but the results identified three other variables that possibly predicted accountability. A higher percentage of students in a school below the poverty level and the use of curriculum pacing guides predicted a lower accountability level for the sample in this study. Evidence of a variety of test prep materials also predicted a higher accountability. Waiting until near the end of a course to begin test prep activities, also slightly predicted accountability levels to increase for the sample in this study. Further investigation revealed that most teachers surveyed spent several days per week on test practice rather than engaging students in activities supported by research. The frequency of test prep activities by most of the teachers surveyed revealed that mandatory state tests place an astounding level of influence on public school education. Although most surveyed teachers confirmed that they frequently engaged students in test prep activities, the high performing schools that participated in the study portrayed a balance of test prep activities and more effective instructional strategies. In contrast, almost all of the participating schools under academic watch stated that test prep activities occurred at least four days a week from the beginning of the course.