Ohio State study finds that emphasizing test scores may increase the risk of violence for teachers

A recent study conducted by academic researchers at Ohio State University discovered that the probability of violence directed towards educators may be higher in schools that place a significant emphasis on grades and standardized test results.

The findings of this study, as documented in the Journal of School Violence, were based on a survey of 9,000 teachers across the country, conducted both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers highlighted that violence against teachers was more prevalent in elementary schools compared to other educational institutions, with female educators being disproportionately affected even before the pandemic struck.

According to the study, “Female teachers were more likely to report experiences of violence from all types of perpetrators pre-COVID-19, whereas females only experienced more violence perpetrated by parents during COVID.”

The study also revealed geographical variations, indicating that schools in rural and suburban areas reported lower instances of violence towards teachers when compared to urban schools during and before the pandemic.

Moreover, the study identified a strong correlation between the school environment’s focus on performance goals and the incidence of violence against teachers, regardless of the source of the violence.

The research highlighted that an educational climate that prioritizes performance metrics and test scores could contribute to negative interactions between teachers and students, potentially escalating to violent incidents.

Among the surveyed teachers, 65% reported experiencing at least one verbal threat or incident of property damage by a student prior to the pandemic. Despite a decrease in such incidents during the 2020-2021 school year – with a 32% reduction in verbal threats and a 26% decrease in property damage – the lead author of the study, Ohio State University professor of educational psychology Eric Anderman, cautioned that lower reported rates did not necessarily indicate a decrease in the overall prevalence of violence.

In response to observations that some incidents occurred virtually over platforms like Zoom, Anderman emphasized that the physical absence of students in the school did not eliminate the potential for violence towards teachers.

Anderman pointed out that the study’s results underscored the negative impact of focusing solely on grades and test scores in the educational setting, suggesting that such a performance-centric culture could fuel student aggression towards educators.

The study’s recommendations included transforming the performance-driven school environment to provide students with outlets to alleviate stress without fixating on grade-based achievements.

A call for shifting the dialogue around education was made, with Anderman stressing the importance of redefining the essence of learning and its fundamental priorities for students.

This study adds to the growing concerns within the teaching community, highlighted by a separate survey conducted during the pandemic, where nearly half of the participating teachers expressed a desire to leave their current positions.

Anderman’s involvement in both the recent study and the 2022 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violence Against Educators and School Personnel underscored the urgent need to address the crisis facing the teaching profession as evidenced by the alarming statistics, with a third of teachers reporting instances of verbal attacks or threats, a significant portion of which were attributed to parents.