Thursday, February 26, 2015

School Accountability and Student Behavior

This week in Education Week Sarah Sparks reports on a new study from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).* The research asks some insightful questions on what the accountability process has done to student behavior in schools. The study found that student attendance directly increased in elementary and middle schools when schools were held accountable for student attendance as a part of Annual Year Progress (AYP), but that negative student behavior has increased as well.

"In the year after a school was identified as not making adequate yearly progress, Ladd, a public policy professor, and Holbein, a postdoctoral candidate in the same field, found that on average, censured schools had 280 fewer absences, .5 fewer per student, and 80 fewer tardies, or .2 fewer per student."

"On average, in the year after missing AYP, schools had:
  • 21 more out-of-school suspensions, a 16 percent increase;
  • 14 percent more fights, more than one more per school;
  • 20 percent more instances of major "disruption"; and
  • 12 percent to 13 percent more drug possession and sexual offenses."

"These misbehaviors were the highest among the lowest-performing students and among black students, though Ladd said she was surprised to also find increases among the top performers."
"At the lower level, we think there's just pressure being put on students, and they might not have the capacity to withstand that pressure," Ladd said, adding, "These are the groups most likely to be left behind."

This study brings up so many questions. What do we do to combat this trend? Do we put a greater effort into teaching students perseverance strategies and executive functioning skills? Do we need to become more mindful of the pressure we are putting on these students? Do we (as the study suggests) start holding schools accountable for student behavior as well?

Whether or not a student's behavior is inappropriate is often based on the teacher's perception. If the teachers are stressed they are more likely to perceive behavior as intentionally disruptive. Is it that the students are reacting to the pressure or that the teachers have a lower tolerance for misbehavior (even developmentally appropriate behavior) because of the stress they feel to meet academic goals?

I can absolutely tell you that it is true for me. Right now I am feeling the February panic of not having my students where I want them to be academically. Every little disruption from them puts me on edge, even when their behaviors are completely what one would expect of a five year old, especially a five year old who just came into the country. It's hard to remind yourself that the behaviors driving you crazy in the moment are the same ones that are helping the child process the world. My limited tolerance for their minor behavior creates a vicious cycle that tends to end with certain students acting out more in response to the tense environment I've created.

It will be hard to tease out if the behaviors are from student pressure or teacher pressure. Do we need to remind ourselves of what is considered developmentally appropriate for students?

Whatever we do we can't overlook this research. The increase in negative behavior we can observe means most likely there is also an increase in negative non-observable behaviors that keep our students from learning and being comfortable in school. How do we tackle high expectations while also de-pressurizing the environments where the students are learning?

*Good grief, there are some specialized centers out there...

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