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A Case Study of Educators' Perceptions of the Effects of High-Stakes Testing and Accountability Policies on High- and Low-Poverty Middle Schools in a Maryland School District Open Access

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This study examined the perceived effects of high-stakes testing and accountability policies on high- and low-poverty middle schools in one school district in the state of Maryland. A qualitative approach, consisting primarily of teacher and principal interviews, was used to examine the effects of the Maryland School Assessment in four areas: curriculum, instructional methods, availability of instructional supports, and job satisfaction. The study was conducted in three high-poverty and three low-poverty schools in a large, generally low-poverty school district with a considerable number of high-poverty schools. Educators in both sets of schools perceived test-based accountability to be a major influence in the areas of curriculum and instructional methods. Educators in general reported an increase in emphasis on tested subjects, the use of fewer student-directed teaching methods, and more time spent on test-taking strategies. Educators also reported that several factors, apart from test-based accountability, also influenced their instructional methods. These included, most notably, school scheduling and class size. Other changes reported in both high- and low-poverty schools included greater consistency in instruction, increased use of student assessment data, more attention devoted to low-performing students, the reallocation of staffing resources within schools from nontested to tested subjects, and increased job-related pressure. The perceptions of educators in high- and low-poverty schools were different in several respects, with the former reporting, most notably, that the degree to which specific subjects were emphasized varied from year to year based on test performance, that expectations for student performance were unreasonable, and that fewer opportunities for advanced learning were available to high-performing students. Educators in high-poverty schools also reported declines in morale; however, very few educators suggested that test-based accountability was a factor in determining their future career plans.

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