High school exams that are based on state standards are changing what and how students learn, whether or not they have high stakes attached to them, a report on two school districts suggests.
Because of such tests in Virginia and Maryland, teachers are focused on ensuring that students are prepared to take and pass the exams, according to case studies of one school district in each of those states.
But sometimes schools sacrifice depth of learning for test preparation, says the report released last week by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.
The impact has been greater in the Virginia district because that state now requires students to pass six end-of-course exams to earn a diploma. In Maryland, the class of 2009 will need to pass such tests in four subjects to qualify for graduation. The current Maryland students take the exams, but their scores are part of their grades in the classes, not a graduation requirement.
The Virginia tests “are having a very significant impact, and they’re focusing the attention of teachers and students,” Jack Jennings, the president of the policy-analysis group, said in an interview.
Prepared, But Rushed
Virginia students told researchers that they felt prepared for the tests, but they also said that teachers sometimes rushed through content to make sure they covered everything that might be on the exams. One of the more than 40 Virginia students interviewed for the study reported that group discussions in classes were rare.
The report says that students and school officials in Maryland reported similar changes in classroom practices, but that the impact hasn’t been as significant. None of the Maryland students interviewed mentioned that teachers had abandoned class discussion, for example.
The less dramatic impact reported for Maryland could be because the state has offered a more specific curriculum guide aligned with its exams than Virginia has, Mr. Jennings said. Or it could be because the graduation tests don’t have high stakes attached to them yet.