What's so bad about teaching to the test?
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By GreatSchools Staff
Some test-taking skills are important to learn
When students spend time preparing for tests, they learn valuable skills. Time management, understanding reading passages, following directions, knowing when certain answers can be eliminated — these are all important test-taking skills that students need to know as they progress through school and their career paths.
Matthew Matera, a middle school teacher at a charter school in the Boston area, says that he "teaches to the test," by teaching test-taking strategies. But he says that doesn't interfere with teaching his core curriculum. He integrates test strategies into his lessons.
"It's a part of the instructional program, not a separate thing," he says. "Standardized tests ask students to demonstrate reading passage comprehension, to derive the meaning of words from context, to pull out facts where needed and to draw connections. These are all skills of a good reader and they are required in professional life, too."
Tests can be used as diagnostic tools
Tests can be used successfully for diagnosing specific areas where kids need help and then providing them with extra help in those subjects. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina has instituted a quarterly assessment program. Their chief accountability officer, Jonathan Raymond, says: "We're utilizing the data in a diagnostic way so that we can constantly intervene and so teachers can see how students are learning. Are we really teaching and are students really learning? That should be our focus, and the test is just one way to determine that. We're looking at scores not as a witch hunt but as a treasure hunt. We want to find the success stories, highlight those and share with others in our district what's working."
Focus on the tests brings attention to state standards
Good test preparation focuses on making sure that students are meeting state standards, rather than focusing on test-prep activities, says Jeanie Fritzsche, a current district-level curriculum coordinator, and former teacher and mentor in Irvine, California, schools. She notes: "We encourage our teachers to focus on grade-level content standards rather than the test.' We specifically discourage 'test-preparation' activities and try to foster the understanding that our students will do well as long as they are proficient in their grade-level standards.
"My personal experience has been that in spite of the stress surrounding the state-mandated testing, without the test many teachers would be less conscientious about addressing grade-level standards. If we consider the standards to be a means to ensure instructional equity for all students then I think it is important that all students — regardless of the district or school they attend, or who their teacher is — have access to instruction in those standards. If it is necessary to mandate assessment in order to be sure that this happens, we may have to live with that until and unless we, as a profession, can devise a better way to be sure that all students are guaranteed a high-quality educational experience."
"There is a big difference between teaching to the test and teaching the test," says Nancy Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, in a recent article in the American School Boards Journal. "If you're teaching to the test and you're mirroring good teaching that will enhance learning, then we don't see anything wrong with that."