Curriculum Shifts in Vermont Public Schools

A Survey of School Superintendents
PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 0506-01
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) legislated state accountability in "meeting annual measurable achievement objectives" for student competence in mathematics and reading. The imposition of high-stakes testing is intended to encourage schools to improve education in these areas. The new law also fundamentally altered the accountability structure from one solely driven by accountability to local voters to one driven by federally mandated sanctions for failure to meet state targets in math and reading.

While the objective of the act is to strengthen student competency in math, reading, and science, policymakers, educators and researchers have raised concerns that the new accountability system may also lead to a shift in school curriculum towards the tested subjects and away from other non-tested subjects such as social studies, arts, etc. A recent national study by the Center on Education Policy provides some evidence of curriculum shifts since the enactment of NCLB (CEP, 2005). Other studies have also suggested high-stakes testing leads to slower growth in achievement in low-stakes tested subjects such as social studies (Jacob, 2002; Korretz & Barron, 1998; Deere & Strayer, 2001). Our study seeks to determine if the curriculum has shifted in the state of Vermont.

In a survey of 19 of 60 (32%) Vermont superintendents, our results suggest that school curriculum is likely shifting since the introduction of high-stakes testing. Eighty-three percent of the nineteen Vermont superintendents surveyed indicated that a narrowing of teaching to tested subjects is either "increasingly common" or occurring "throughout the district."