TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Testing, testing… Are teachers less likely to quit when states stop testing?

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A new working paper raises doubts about a popular assertion that teaching is a less attractive career than it once was because of the pressure on teachers caused by state standardized tests. Dillon Fuchsman, Tim Sass, and Gema Zamarro (CALDER) make use of a natural experiment in Georgia to explore how teachers behave when the course they teach is no longer subjected to state testing. In other words, does removing the stress of a standardized test keep teachers in the classroom?

Georgia provided an excellent laboratory for answering this question, as the state changed testing requirements four times in 15 years, meaning that in any given year, different grades were required to administer state tests.

It turns out that the presence or absence of a state test did not seem to have much of an influence on teachers' decisions to stay in the classroom. For both elementary and middle grade teachers, removing a standardized test not only did not make teachers any less likely to leave the profession, but elementary teachers were a little less likely to change grades if the grade they were teaching was no longer subject to a state test. The only notable difference: Novice teachers were slightly less likely to quit if tests were removed.

Still, these findings do not definitively prove that testing doesn't factor into teachers' job choices. After all, in some cases, teachers may not have even been aware that testing was going to be added or eliminated in the following school year. More importantly though, the stakes a state attaches to testing may make a big difference in what teachers do. A state like Louisiana, where teacher evaluations not only factor in state tests (as they did in Georgia) but also affect teachers' compensation, might have seen a larger impact.

When asked, teachers often say they don't like standardized testing. A survey of former Washington, D.C. teachers found that one in five teachers identified "over-emphasis on student testing" as a major factor in them leaving the city's schools. But while testing may not be popular, this study calls into question whether standardized tests are ultimately a big driver of teachers' job decisions.