Should Teachers be Held Accountable for Low Student Test Scores – No

Teachers have always been held accountable for the success, or failures of their charges. The traditional view of a successful pupil, though, was that of a well-rounded individual, not just a genius. More recently, however, the role of teachers have come under sharper focus, with education being caught up in the free market culture of supply and demand. It is a whirlwind that has caught up with everyone, with governments leading the way, while elective leaders, not wanting to be left behind, carry the banner in this modern day crucifixion of teachers.

The traditional view of teaching as a noble profession, and the teacher as more than just a conveyor of knowledge has diminished in the cut-throat competitive world of high production. Thus, the conceptualization of the teacher as a role a model, morally, socially and as stand-in parent-figure is fast receding in our collective memory. It is getting harder to absolve teachers from blame when their pupils perform poorly, when the culture of glorifying individual excellence is the new money-spinning industry. Parents are on the over-drive to create the instant billionaire whizz-kids, while the media must cash-in on the top-league headlines. Employers and multinationals, also taking the cue from the rest, must only employ top brains.

The proliferation of modern gadgets and How To materials in the market, has made it even more difficult for a modern teacher to absolve himself from taking responsibility for his pupil’s low scores in tests. How can he ever offer excuses when the modern school boards and parents associations are scouting for result-oriented teachers? Save for few religious schools, the traditional view of a school as a character molding institution has been replaced by its current image of a high turn-over producer of high achieving robots. These elites soon realize that they cannot cope with the high expectations of the society and end up as junkies or social misfits.

A sober reflection, therefore, reveals some fundamental realities. First of all, high test scores alone cannot be the only yard-stick by which pupil achievements should be measured. The second reality is that the successful education of pupils takes into account many variables, teaching being crucial, but not the only important one. Many societies have their own ways of gauging intelligence and success which takes into account other all-compassing yardsticks. This, however, should not absolve the teacher from taking some responsibility for his pupils low test scores.

Apart from teaching, education researchers have identified the home environment, and affective filters of learning as factors that considerably affect learning. Many parents, for example, do not realize that their attitude towards learning may be a de-motivating factor in their children’s success in school. Pupils too have their own attitudes, anxieties, motivation, beliefs and learning preferences. These factors may have a positive or negative impact on a pupil at any point of learning. The teacher being at the nucleus of the learning process, is unfairly expected to be ‘the learning physician, diagnosing the pupils’ problems and prescribing a course of action’. Granted that the teacher has no excuse but to devise a working formula, more often the teacher has his own beliefs and short-comings that affect his capabilities as a professional. In the meantime the policy makers, and other stake-holders see him as an agent of change, a parent-figure, a result producer, a practical instructor and a manager all rolled into one. Teaching, therefore, is a highly demanding career.

The challenging role of a teacher has spawned all manner of adages, the most famous being Albert Einstein’s view, ‘I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn’. Thus, according to Einstein, the teacher is the facilitator of learning. A chinese proverb echoes Einsten by suggesting that teachers open the door, while the pupils enter by themselves. But, there are others like George Bernard Shaw(GBS) who disagree. GBS summarised his attitude towards teachers thus: He who can does; he who cannot teaches.

Given the multiple challenges of teaching, and the limitations facing teachers, it is safe to suggest that they alone cannot be held accountable for low test scores.


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 Borg, S. (2008). Teacher Cognition and Language Education. Continuum.