School & District Management

Teaching, Standards, Tests Found Not Aligned

By David J. Hoff — October 31, 2001 3 min read
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What teachers teach, what state standards expect, and what states’ assessments test are rarely the same, researchers reported last week.

“New Tools for Analyzing Teaching, Curriculum, and Standards in Mathematics and Science” is $15 from the Council of Chief State School Officers, Attn: Publications, 1 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20001.

Researchers involved with the Survey of the Enacted Curriculum Project have been analyzing whether standards and assessments are driving instruction. They told a group of state and federal officials at a one-day conference here that the answer is not much.

Andrew C. Porter, the director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleagues survey teachers to find out how much time and effort they spend on specific topics and skills.

The team then draws a graph in which the topics— such as geometric concepts and data analysis—are on one axis, and skills such as memorization and the use of experiments are on the other. The amount of time spent in each area is represented by darkening the shade in the area.

The graphs look more like topographical maps than a guide to improving what teachers are doing in their classrooms. But the researchers are hoping that their complex pictures will show math and science teachers how well their instruction meets the expectations in their states’ standards and assessments.

“You can quickly see what isn’t there, as well as what is there,” Mr. Porter said.

“The power of the data that’s coming out of here ... is to have teachers recognize that X should be going on the classroom, but they have to decide how to do it,” said Michael Kestner, the section chief for mathematics and science instruction at the state education department in North Carolina, one of 11 states involved in the project.

The blob that spans the graph demonstrates which topics and skills are taught, with the darkest shades showing which get the most attention.

The researchers draw a similar graph of the states’ standards and assessment after analyzing them.

Not Test-Driven

In one state—called “State B” in the report the research team released here at the Oct. 23 conference—the graphs show that the statewide 8th grade science test focuses on understanding concepts and applying them, particularly in physical and earth science. But teachers reported that they covered a wider range of topics and place a greater emphasis on life science than earth science.

“For the states we looked at, it doesn’t look like their tests are driving instruction all that much,” Mr. Porter said.

In addition to North Carolina, the states of Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia participated.

While the focus of the work has been on analyzing whether standards and assessments are driving instruction, state officials also can compare what is taught in different grades. Most will find that teachers repeat the same math material in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, Mr. Porter said.

That finding reiterates curriculum surveys conducted for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, a 1996 comparison of math achievement and teaching in 41 countries. (“Math, Science Curricula Said to Fall Short,” Oct. 16, 1996.)

The Wisconsin researchers developed their survey in 1999 with money from the National Science Foundation. They worked with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which organized last week’s meeting.

Now, they are moving beyond the developmental stage of the project and are using the survey in four urban districts. Teachers from 40 middle schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Chicago, Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Philadelphia are being surveyed. The project researchers will analyze the results against the state standards and assessments expected of those districts.

“We’re trying to directly use this data with schools to see the extent to which this will change practice,” said Rolf K. Blank, the director of the CCSSO’s education indicators program.

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