The study had two central purposes:
1. To identify reform-related practices in mathematics instruction that have increased, decreased, or not changed since the implementation of high-stakes testing, based on educators' perceptions.
2. To determine educators' perceptions of the effects of reform-related practices on improving student achievement since the implementation of high-stakes testing.
High-stakes testing in mathematics has redefined the way teachers instruct students who underperform or learn at different rates or in different ways. Many educators feel that testing has had positive effects on student achievement and has produced positive curriculum and instructional changes in mathematics (Phelps, 2005). Others believe that reform efforts have not gone far enough or have been detrimental to honest achievement, as they focus on objective tests rather than subjective analyses of conceptual learning (Phelps, 2005). The problems continue to be how to teach all types of students, including those who do not learn at the same rate as others, as well as determining which practices are most effective in teaching students of varying ability levels.
This research also sought answers to the following questions:
1. Based on educators' perceptions, which reform-related practices in mathematics instruction have increased, decreased, or not changed in the study-site school district since the implementation of high-stakes testing?
2. Do educators' perceptions of these changes vary based on qualitative and quantitative variables in the experience and background of the educator?
3. Based on educators' perceptions, have these reform practices positively affected student achievement?
4. Do educators' perceptions of these changes vary based on the demographic characteristics of the particular school they are associated with?
5. Are educators' perceptions of the effectiveness of the Reform Act different for varying subgroups of student: those who are at risk of failing, are racial or ethnic minorities, or are receiving special education services?
6. Do educator's perceptions of these changes vary based on the demographic characteristics of the students?
8. How do the trends in mathematics test scores from 1998 through 2006 in Massachusetts compare with local and national trends during the same time period?
Significance of the Study
There is widespread disagreement over the impact of high-stakes testing on education, a school's ability to implement it, and its effect on the curriculum. (Nata, 2007). Just as important is how the weight of these tests affects students, who are often anxious about tests in general. With the outcome of these tests often determining a young person's educational decisions and opportunities, learning for the tests may become the goal rather than learning the subject to gain increased knowledge. Although there is agreement on issues such as the increase in student achievement in high-stakes tests because the focus of the curriculum and instruction is on content mastery, it is widely debated whether a standardized test is an adequate measure of student's learning and understanding of mathematical concepts and principles (Brooks, 2008). Research in other districts shows the shift of focus from learning itself to achieving high scores on tests, a direction that has affected teaching practices and caused inflexibility in both methodology and the curriculum (Lai & Waltman, 2008). The reports by the Massachusetts Education Commission, which assesses whether MERA-implemented testing has been successful, point out discrepancies, but there is still a wide gap between the perspective of policymakers and educators. It is certainly possible that the absence of classroom teachers' direct participation in policy decisions about these reforms may have negative effects on the educational outcomes for students (Turnbull, 2002).
Because the creation of MERA was essentially a top-down process during the policy phase, MDESE could not fully consider how its reforms might affect the way things work in a classroom. This research will also assess the perceptions of teachers of mathematics and other mathematics educators to determine what effects these reforms and statewide testing have had on teaching practices in mathematics. These results could inform those who want to change policies or practices in ways that support the best practices of math educators. In short, this research can be an effective instrument for correlation with student achievement.
The research could benefit teachers and other educators, whose lack of influence on policies will be taken into account and integrated into recommendations to identify effective teaching practices in urban schools. With the results of research on good teaching practices, educators may better align the curriculum with instruction and increase the level of student learning as well as student achievement. Urban teachers' perceptions should provide a clear line of direction to inform policies which are more effective and reflect a consensus of the perception of urban mathematics educators.
Methods and Procedures
This study analyzed data collected from responses to a Likert-type scale questionnaire on reform-related teacher practices in mathematics. It also polled the perceptions of urban math teachers, math instructional leaders, and principals in Waynesville regarding mathematics instructional practices since high-stakes testing began. This study measured the effectiveness of the reforms through educators' judgments of student performance, rather than using MCAS test scores alone as a total measure of success. Tyack (1991) suggested that examining the effectiveness of reform efforts by test scores alone as indicators of academic growth is no better than using out-of -- the box, one-size-fits-all approaches to the problem. ] the data from this study add to the knowledge of urban school mathematics teacher practices and the effects of the current education reform movement on teacher practices and student learning.
A survey sought discrete responses to a series of questions related to practices educators believe have been most effective in helping more of their students to learn and demonstrate increased mathematics proficiency. In addition, results measured whether mathematical practices in use are perceived to have been effective across the range of student backgrounds and abilities in the Waynesville public schools. The results should provide urban educators with the information they need to select instructional practices that have been most effective in improving learning in mathematics. The greatest strength of the information will be that it has been drawn from practitioners rather than test-makers.
This study took place in an urban school district with a heterogeneous student population. Because effective practices are needed to narrow the achievement gap between minority and nonminority students, it also focused on determining the effectiveness of required mathematics teaching practices as perceived by classroom teachers and the extent to which the classroom teacher believes that a particular practice has been effective in improving student achievement. "It is imperative that researchers have the strength of their convictions to address and challenge educational correctness and investigate practices that may result in improved achievement for all students" (Tieso, 2003).
Definitions of Terms
Massachusetts Educational Reform Act of 1993 (MERA) -- the MERA of 1993 is a comprehensive piece of legislation intended to substantially improve the quality of K-12 education in the Commonwealth. It calls for sweeping changes in many areas, including curriculum and instruction, educational finance, assessment and testing, teacher preparation, and governance and decision making (MDESE, 1997).
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) -- the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was implemented in response to the MERA, which required
1. Testing of all public school students across the Commonwealth, including students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.
2. Testing administered annually in selected grades to measure performance based on the learning standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
3. Reports on the performance of individual students, schools, and districts to serve as one basis of accountability for students, schools, and districts (MDESE, 1997).
For the purposes of this study, the following definitions also apply:
Reform-related teaching practices
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