This paper looks at the complicated relationship between teacher self-efficacy, teacher stress related to testing, and job satisfaction within the paradigm of test-based accountability, an interesting concept and directly relevant to the processes of the English education system.
The findings highlighted the importance of providing adequate support for teacher self-efficacy, to reduce stress associated with accountability policies and increase job satisfaction. Test-based accountability is what it is – the idea that student and teacher outcomes and effectiveness is measured and based on assessment performance. This approach in education has a plethora of effects and impacts including the idea that students are taught in ways to maximise their performance on set exams, rather than to allow students to develop a deeper understanding and an enjoyment of the subject, with lower able and most able students often side-lined as the target student group are those who must improve to meet pass grades, almost entirely defeating the purpose and function of education. The paper takes account the danger in measuring teacher effectiveness based on assessment outcomes, including the impact of external variables and the students’ own effectiveness in their learning capacity. When you frame the picture in this way, it becomes inextricably difficult to make accurate correlations between teacher effectiveness and assessment outcomes; using the words of the paper, an effective teacher cannot guarantee good exam performance and vice versa. Similarly, an ineffective teacher cannot guarantee poor exam performance, which makes sense. Then, one must ask the question, why is it that some schools still insist on assessing and measuring this correlation, especially when it comes to performance management?
On the other hand, the paper also finds that there is evidence that test-based accountability has improved working conditions in terms of clarity of expectations, however there is very little evidence that looks at the effects of this benchmark on teacher stress and the efficacy of instructional practices. Having clarity regarding job roles and responsibilities could suggest a lower level of stress, but as teaching becomes an incredibly difficult and complex job where teachers are not only responsible for exam and assessment performance but mental health and wellbeing support, pastoral care, oracy, behaviour management, home and community liaison amongst other things, I wonder to what degree such clarity has on the overall wellbeing and stress levels of a teacher. Context is important.
Looking at the causes
There are common threads and stipulations in papers that discuss teacher stress and one of those is the defining of what the causes of teacher stress could be. Here, Embse et al specify causes of stress to include a lack of time, support and resources to prepare for assessments and unrealistic expectations of performance from school leadership, parents and students. Going back to my point of the importance of context and looking at the teacher and their role as a whole to accurately evaluate aggravating and mitigating factors of teacher stress, the paper found that job-related stressors are the strongest predictor of poor job satisfaction for teachers and low levels of self-efficacy. Embse et al use Bandura’s definition of self-efficacy, which is the belief of one’s own capacity as an agent to successfully complete a task; transferring the concept to teachers being the agents in this context, teacher self-efficacy therefore becomes the belief of a teacher’s capacity to complete their job successfully. Researchers and academics have looked at this and have tried to delineate it in a number of different ways to determine which and how many elements affect and constitute teacher self-efficacy, which helps in determining research foci and also adds to the understanding of what determines levels of self-efficacy and what teachers pride or deprecate their efficacy on. But efficacy is a subjective process; what one teacher might hold themselves accountable to in order to fulfil their efficacy may be completely different to another’s. The measures and standards therefore will vary in their effect depending on the specific agent. However, a point to be made here is that whereas there may be trending and popular measures and others less so, all of them must hold equitable consideration when evaluating teacher efficacy. If not, this would innately devalue the evaluation in a contradictory sense by differentiating between the measures used to determine teacher self-efficacy; there’s no point asking teachers what matters to them then disregard it or lessen its value in the evaluation because their answer wasn’t commonly cited. By taking a broader approach and amalgamating the measures rather than refining them would, in my opinion, open up avenues for further research and considerations in the evaluation process and provide a more detailed picture of the determination and construing of teacher self-efficacy on an individual teacher basis.
What is particularly interesting about the theoretical underpinning of this paper is its use of the job demands-resources model, a model based on the premise that stress is a function of the authority and responsibility of a job relative to available resources that are specific to both the job and individual. This would be a good model to apply to school leadership as well as teachers to understand the complex relationship outlined at the beginning, and also understand leadership self-efficacy. It is worth mentioning explicitly here that test-based accountability is a decision made by leadership and imposed on teaching staff – what would be interesting to see is whether this decision is driven by the weight of accountability they themselves face considering student outcomes by applying the job demands-resources model, especially given the current political and financial climate in education. It leads back to a central idea that I have embedded in my own research plan, and that is all teachers must be supported and protected. In the hypothetical above, stress creates a vicious cycle in which leaders become perpetrators and victims of stress. A good point to reconsider here would be the validity of linking teacher effectiveness to assessment performance and whether such a measure and evaluation should be allowed to continue in schools today, given the teacher crisis. Change is important, especially when progress and healing is to take place.
The questions and the results
The research questions of the paper are two-fold: 1. Does teaching efficacy influence the relationship between test-related stressors and teacher job satisfaction across the school year? And 2. How do the aforementioned relationships differ by type of teaching efficacy and test stress? The Teachers’ Sense of Self Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran and Woolkfolk, Hoy, 2001) was used under three subscales: the efficacy in student engagement subscale, the efficacy in classroom management subscale and the efficacy in instructional practices subscale at two different points of the academic year; Fall (Autumn) and Spring, and therefore in the beginning and almost at the end of an academic year
The results were these: the implementation of test-based accountability policies can contribute to greater teacher stress and consequently lower job satisfaction but there is not enough evidence to suggest that the directly or indirectly do so.
Interestingly, teacher efficacy was higher in the spring compared to in the fall, even though both periods of time include assessment and examination windows. One deduction that was made was that the stress induced by the assessment window in the fall could leave a perpetual negative effect and influence on teachers’ efficacy throughout the academic year, therefore emphasising the importance of early support. The link between teacher stress and test-based assessment was variable and was dependent on the type of test stress, for example, the indirect effect of efficacy for student engagement was significant between sources of test stress but not its manifestations; practically, cited stress manifestations were reported more in the spring window as opposed to cited stress sources that were consistently expressed in the fall and spring window.
The self-perceptions of teacher self-efficacy also affected the variable results; teachers who had a high standard and perception of their teacher efficacy regarding classroom management were less likely to report job stress and low levels of job satisfaction compared to their counterparts, emphasising how much of an impact classroom management can have on teachers’ self-efficacy, jobs stress and job satisfaction. Contrary to existing research however, there was not enough evidence to show that instructional practices were indirectly related to stress manifestations, which went against the hypothetical framework of the article as it specifically looked at the correlative impact of test-based accountability on teacher efficacy and job satisfaction. It could be the fact that when assessing under this subscale, the question posed was one of the perceived capabilities to utilise effective institutional practices, rather than commentary of the effectiveness of actual institutional practices, a flaw in the methodology. However, even if the question was posed theoretically rather than empirically, participating teachers still had an opportunity to answer the question using their experiences, which could have resulted in a clearer correlation, using evidence to inform their responses.
As institutional practice is just one of numerous elements that can affect teacher efficacy, stress levels and job satisfaction, it would be interesting to find out more about research linked to this specific variable to build an understanding of its importance and relevance when considering teacher wellbeing (I use teacher wellbeing as an umbrella term here, notwithstanding the discussed concepts of efficacy and satisfaction) and understanding its effects. The results of this research project were inconclusive in this context as a result of self-identified flaws and limitations of the study, however, I believe this is a covariate that requires more research and investigation given how big of a part institutional practice plays in the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of being a teacher. I think what cannot be forgotten when such studies take place is the multitude of causes, elements and factors that can have an effect on teacher stress levels, and in turn, their wellbeing. Unless the field research is crystal clear to mitigate the potential of affected data by choosing methods that are singular to the element being looked at, in this instance it would be assessment-performance accountability, there is a significant risk that teachers will call upon and use other examples, experiences and opinions outside of the specific elemental focus when participating in a specific study.
Embse, N., Sandilos, L., Pendergast, L., Mankin, A. (2016). Teacher stress, teaching-efficacy, and job satisfaction in response to test-based educational accountability policies. Learning and Individual Differences. 50 (1).
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