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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Testing pushes weakest teachers to K-2

How should an elementary school deploy its best teachers? Many would argue that first grade is the most critical grade — or maybe kindergarten, now that children are expected to learn to read at five.

Instead, schools are placing the least-effective teachers in the early grades to boost scores in grades that are tested, according to a new Vanderbilt/Stanford study of Miami-Dade County public schools.

The study, published in the American Educational Research Journal, covers 2003 to 2014. “Florida had strict accountability rules during that period, including performance-based letter grades for schools,” reports Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat.

The trio of researchers hypothesized that because Florida focuses on the performance of students in certain grades and subjects — generally third through 10th grade math and English — less-effective teachers would get shunted to other assignments, like early elementary grades or social studies. That’s exactly what they found. In particular, elementary teachers effective at raising test scores tended to end up teaching grades 3-6, while lower-performing ones moved toward early grades.

“Being assigned a teacher in early elementary school who switched from a higher grade led to reduced academic achievement” through at least third grade, reports Barnum.

It’s not just Miami.

When the test was only grades 3 through 12, we put the least effective teachers in K-2,” said schools chief Sharon Griffin of Shelby County schools in Memphis told Chalkbeat earlier this year. “We can’t do that anymore. We’re killing third grade and then we have students who get in third grade whose challenges are so great, they never ever catch up.”

Teacher switching is more common in F-rated schools, “which face the greatest pressure to raise test scores,” writes Barnum.

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