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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: Perceptions Concerning the Effect of NCLB Accountability Mandate


Wyoming Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions Concerning the Effect of NCLB Accountability Mandates and High-Stakes Testing on Their Instructional Practices

Overview of the Study

Since the January 2002 federal implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), our nation has made a huge investment in an effort to achieve what seems to be a worthy goal. That goal is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards as measured by state standardized tests. It is contended that this will result in the closing of the educational achievement. Although this goal seems to be worthy and good in theory, there is uncertainty concerning its outcome. Without further study, we cannot be certain of the effects of the NCLB accountability plan and high-stakes standardized testing on teachers and their instructional practices.
            The primary research question for this study was: What are the perceptions of Wyoming’s elementary teachers concerning the effect of the NCLB accountability plan and its consequent high-stakes testing on instructional practices?

Research Study Participants

One hundred forty-two elementary teachers responded to the survey All but two of the respondents were Caucasian. Thirty-five respondents were males and  107 were females. Respondents were elementary teachers employed in 32 schools located in 25 towns/cities across Wyoming. Sixty teachers taught first, second, or third grade; 39 teachers taught 4th grade (the grade in which the standardized test was administered at the time of this study); and 43 teachers taught fifth or sixth grade. Thirty-six teachers taught in schools that had not always met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals while 106 teachers taught in schools that had always met AYP goals. Six of the teachers taught on Wyoming’s Indian Reservation serving predominantly Native American students.


  • 79% -- punitive sanctions of NCLB had a negative effect on teachers, instruction, curriculum, and student learning:
    • 45% -- Too much emphasis & time spent on test preparation taking away from worthwhile instruction & resulting in a “watered-down” curriculum.
    • 19% -- The pressure and stress involved in raising test scores takes the joy, fun, and creativity out of teaching and learning.
    • 30% -- non-tested curriculum is being deemphasized or eliminated.
    • 20% -- The test-driven curriculum is encouraging “one-size-fits-all” instruction designed to raise test scores of lower-achieving students while leaving higher-level students behind.
  • 74% -- NCLB goals are unrealistic and unattainable.
  • 52% -- NCLB does not consider extraneous beyond the control of teachers.
  • 30% -- Positive effects of NCLB and extended written responses required on test:
    • A more focused and refined curriculum
    • Higher expectations for students
    • More emphasis on writing instruction across the curriculum
    • More emphasis on problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • 26% -- the standardized test is only one accountability tool and, by itself,
  •             incapable of revealing all student knowledge and growth.
  • 17% -- Standardized test -- not developmentally appropriate.
  • 14% -- Positive school improvement efforts:
    • more para-professionals
    • more staff development in effort to improve achievement
    • purchasing of research-based educational materials
  • 13% -- NCLB unfairly places all blame for achievement gap on teachers/ schools.
  • 13% -- NCLB goals are commendable and well-intentioned in theory.
  • 10% -- ‘Apples to oranges’ comparisons of test results—inappropriate/ineffective.
  • 9% -- Test directions and items poorly written and therefore confusing.
  • 3% -- NCLB is a somewhat effective solution for closing the achievement gap.

Conclusions and Policy Implications

  • Keep high expectations of NCLB.
  • Keep extended response items on standardized tests.
  • Eliminate punitive sanctions of NCLB.
  • Respond to NCLB mandates in an educationally sound manner.
    • Teach an engaging, challenging, and rigorous curriculum.
    • Differentiate instruction to meet unique student needs.
  • Aggressively address systemic and familial issues that contribute greatly to the

educational and racial achievement gap.

  • Assure equal school funding, equal learning materials, equally-qualified teachers, and equal teacher-to-student ratios in all schools in the country.
  • Use the standardized test as ONE assessment tool in conjunction with a variety of other assessment tools to determine student achievement and teacher/school quality.
  • Use a panel of teachers to peruse the test to determine test-standard match, developmental appropriateness, and clarity of test directions and items.
  • Essential skills and concepts that will be tested at each grade level need to be communicated to teachers so they can teach to the test. This will assure that the test assesses school achievement rather than socioeconomic status.
  • Design a testing system that measures the progress each student makes during a school year. Such a test could determine whether a lower-level student was making progress even though they were not performing at grade level. It could also be determined whether a high-level student was continuing to progress rather than remaining stagnant academically while the teacher focused on remediating the skills of lower-level students. Such tests would be more accurate and adequate indicators of student achievement and teacher success.

Joanie James joaniejames@hotmail.com

Research Focus:
Professional Development
Policy & Practice

TNLI Affiliate:

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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