What's so bad about teaching to the test?
If teaching content standards is considered teaching to the test, it may not be such a bad thing.
By GreatSchools Staff
Is teaching to the test bad?
It all depends on the test and the teacher. If the test measures the skills students are expected to be learning and teachers prepare students by teaching those skills, then teaching to the test is a good thing.
But if the test is not directly related to what is being taught or teachers depend on repeated drills with old test questions to prepare students, it's a different story. Teaching to the test can waste valuable learning time.
No Child Left Behind puts testing on the front burner
The federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), which went into effect in 2002, has caused schools to "be accountable," which translates into focusing a lot of attention on state standardized testing and results. It requires all schools to test students in grades 2-12 in reading, math and science. Each state chooses its own test and standards of proficiency. Schools that don't show that students are making "adequate yearly progress" toward achieving proficiency are subject to federal sanctions, including loss of federal funds, providing free tutoring, allowing students to transfer to another school, and if all else fails, a complete restructuring of the school.
Critics of the law say that the emphasis on testing in reading and math means other subjects, such as social studies and the arts, are getting less attention. Some schools have even done away with or cut back on recess time because of the pressure to spend more school time preparing students to pass state tests.
On the positive side, students across the country (particularly in the lower grades) have made progress in basic skills in reading and math, but studies show that the improvements don't necessarily hold up in middle school and beyond, when the tests get more complex and critical thinking skills are necessary.
It's all about alignment
In the wake of NCLB, there is much talk about aligning instruction, curriculum, standards and assessment. This basically means that teachers and students have a clear idea of what they are expected to learn. In the best of all possible worlds, the state provides textbooks and curriculum that match the standards, and the tests measure achievement of the standards. Most state Departments of Education are working to devise systems that do just that, but many are not there yet. A study by the American Federation of Teachers found that 11 out of 50 states completely met the criteria for having both strong content standards and documenting that the tests align to the standards, specifically in grades 3 through 12 and subjects (reading and math) required by NCLB.