Ohio State Study Shows Test Score Focus Could Raise Violence Risk for Teachers

Solutions posed in the study involved creating channels for students to release stress.

This is a photo of a teacher grading tests.

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A study by researchers from Ohio State University found that the likelihood of violence against teachers could be greater in schools that focus primarily on grades and test scores.

The study, which was published in the Journal of School Violence, surveyed 9,000 teachers in the nation, particularly before and amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did researchers find that violence against teachers was more likely in elementary schools than in other schools, but also that female teachers “experienced more violence than others pre-COVID-19,” 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 stated.

There was a difference in region as well, with rural and suburban schools reporting less violence than teachers in urban schools before and during the pandemic.

But overall, the “performance goal structure” was what the study found connected teachers with levels of violence, no matter who perpetrated the violence.

“Our results indicate that an instructional climate that emphasizes performance and test scores may set the stage for negative teacher and student interactions that may lead to violence against educators,” the study stated.

Of the teachers surveyed, 65% reported at least one verbal threat or property damage incident by a student before the pandemic. In the 2020-2021 school year, incidents dropped 32% verbal threats and 26% property damage, but the lower rates don’t mean the likelihood of violence was less common overall, according to the lead author, OSU educational psychology professor Eric Anderman.

“People say no one was in schools then. That’s not true,” Anderman said in a statement. “A lot of times teachers were in the building, but the students were at home. And some of the violence occurred over Zoom.”

Anderman said the research didn’t show an emphasis on mastering skills, so much as the focus on placing a grade or test score at the forefront of education, that created violent situations.

“What was really striking was this performance culture predicted all kinds of increased violence by students, whether it be physical violence, verbal threatening, or property violence,” Anderman said in a release announcing the study.

Solutions posed in the study involved changing the performance-focused methods in schools and creating channels for students to release stress without pushing grade-based success.

“This is about changing the way we talk to kids about what learning is about and what is really important,” Anderman stated in the release.

The study comes after a separate teacher survey conducted during the pandemic showed nearly half of all teachers who participated wanted to quit or transfer.

Anderman was a part of that 2022 study as well, as part of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violence Against Educators and School Personnel,  and the anecdotes and information from the study showed him there was “a crisis in the teaching profession,” according to a release when the survey was published.

That survey showed 33% of the teachers participating reported “verbal attacks or threats of violence,” 29% of those threats received from parents.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David Dewitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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