M.Ed. director researches standardized testing

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Standardized tests are daunting, not only for the students who take them, but also for adults. These tests are a hot topic for political parties, educators and parents.

But one ACU professor is doing more than discussing the issue: He’s making a positive difference through research and training the next generation of teachers.

Dr. Andrew Huddleston is an assistant professor of teacher education and program director for the Master of Education in Teaching and Learning. He recruits for the fifth­-year master’s program and teaches reading and reading assessment classes. He has also written several published articles about high-stakes testing and reading assessment.

Through his research and teaching, Huddleston is preparing teacher education students to navigate the world of standardized testing.

Huddleston grew up in Andrews, Texas. His grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, were teachers, but Huddleston studied engineering when he first came to ACU as a freshman. He then switched his major to undecided for a year before choosing to pursue English and literacy.

Huddleston graduated from ACU in 2000 with a degree in English education. He earned a master’s in language and literacy education at Texas Tech, then taught fifth- and sixth-grade language and literature in Lubbock.

After earning his Ph.D at the University of Georgia in 2012, he joined the faculty at ACU. His wife, Dr. Jennifer Huddleston, was also hired by ACU as an assistant professor of biology.

Huddleston has published several journal articles about his research. For one graduate project, he explored incorporating pop culture into an English literacy unit. With help from his younger brother, who was interested in professional wrestling, he created an English unit that compared “Beowulf” to wrestling, showing how the hero defeats the beast much like a wrestling match.

“We looked at the plotlines of these scripted wrestling matches, the personas of the wrestlers and the symbolism that the wrestlers use to create their personas,” Huddleston said.

Other research involved standardized testing in schools. Huddleston was concerned about standardized testing because the TAKS test, now the STAAR test, had an effect on his teaching in Lubbock. If students failed the test, they were required to repeat the fifth grade. This same policy was used in Georgia where Huddleston earned his doctorate. For his dissertation, Huddleston did an indepth case study of 10 fifth-grade students who were struggling with the tests.

“What my research contributes is an in­the­trenches view of how the policies are actually implemented,” Huddleston said.

The school the students attended had an appeals procedure, which allowed students who failed the standardized test to appeal retention.

Research has shown that students do not benefit socially or academically when they are retained, and students who are retained have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, Huddleston said.

Huddleston said his research provides educators and policymakers with descriptive, indepth case studies. Similar research in the education community has been quantitative, while his research is qualitative. The question most research asks is “Do students do better academically if they’re retained because of a test score?” However, Huddleston said, there’s been little research that follows students through the process.

Huddleston’s current research focuses on graduates of ACU’s teacher education program. He looks at the role testing plays in instructional methods and the effects on new teachers.

“There’s a tension there because the standardized tests only assess a fraction of the

curriculum,” Huddleston said. “There’s a temptation to only teach what’s going to be tested, and if you do that, well then you’re leaving out so much of the curriculum.”

Teaching and Faith

Huddleston learned valuable lessons from his time as a teacher in Lubbock. Some of the children in his classes were living in poverty, he said, and that taught him the effect poverty has on education.

“I hadn’t thought about that much before,” Huddleston said. “Here we are in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but not everybody has access to that wealth.”

Another lesson Huddleston learned from that time was the power standardized testing had over his teaching methods.

“Teaching is tough,” Huddleston said. “I had a whole lot of knowledge in terms of

teaching strategies and yet here was this testing piece and the stakes are so high.”

Huddleston said he struggled to balance test preparation, while still teaching the rest of the curriculum. Today, this fuels his research and helps him to better prepare his teacher education students for the issues they will face.

Hannah Lowry, an elementary education major from Fort Collins, Colo., is conducting research with Huddleston as part of the master’s in education program. Along with professors from other universities, Lowry and Huddleston plan to study how first-year teachers make decision about teaching reading.

“He’s definitely a great researcher, but he also tries to include students and give them that experience,” Lowry said. “He’s compassionately demanding. He has high expectations but he walks you through to meet those expectations.”

Huddleston incorporates his Christian faith into both his teaching and research. In classes, he has students read articles about faith and education which he calls “faith­reads.” He talks to students about what they can and cannot legally say about faith in a public school.

Huddleston also has his teacher education students pray for their students during student-teaching experiences. The teacher education students write each child’s name, a Bible verse and a prayer request on an index card. Huddleston said this is legal because the children do not know their teacher is praying for them.

“I teach my students to look at their students with a prayerful eye,” Huddleston said. “My students never end up having trouble thinking of something to pray about.”

Huddleston said faith plays a role in his research when it comes to ethics. His research involves human participants, and Christians, he said, should show love and concern for people even while studying them.

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