What’s Frustrating About Teaching To The Test?

Sorry, but I had to write this to blow off steam after some recent conversations.

I am not against testing. Testing that helps evaluate where students are so you can make informed decisions on where to go next with them is just good teaching. But much of the testing we do is not well designed to do that and actually becomes counter-productive.  Hence…

For students to do well on a test many schools teach how to take “The Test” – that takes time and it is not a standard. Students that need the most time on the actual reading and math skills also need the most time on test taking skills which steal learning time from the actual subjects. Test taking skills always include tricks on picking the best answer that have nothing to do with knowing or understanding, but just how to get more “right answers” (if one of the choices is “All the Above” that is often the answer, so pick that if you are not sure, is one example) – is that solid teaching and learning? – That’s teaching to the test.

The standards usually assume (How do standards assume?) that in whatever grade you teach you have an entire school year to teach the standards for each subject, but in reality the tests are often given months before the school year is over, so to get the students ready for the test you have to cram 9 + months of standards into 6 or 7 months of teaching so you are teaching to do as well on the test as possible – not for the best understanding. Standardized tests are normed for that (sort of), but on the Criterion Referenced Tests that are more important today, the tests cover ALL the content for that grade and if you don’t get to some things by March13th (that’s when ours were) it appears you did a crummy job even though we still have more than 2 months of school left – do you think we might have covered some more content in roughly 1/4 of the school year? That’s teaching to the test.

Developmentally many students are being tested for things that they shouldn’t be held accountable for yet. They should be focused on learning to read at all (ESL students that have not been here for long for example, students with a history of discipline problems based on extreme poor parenting, drugs, in and out of many homes – where we are basically teaching a student how to do school at all) so instead of covering reading at the level where they are, which they would be more successful at and build the early reading and vocabulary skills they actually need, we test them at grade level – so we have to get them ready for a test they shouldn’t even be taking yet to find out that SURPRISE! – they aren’t reading at grade level (which we already knew) – you must be doing a poor job. Wouldn’t it make more sense to see if they are growing at least a year from where they are now than to test to see if they are on “Grade Level”? Standardized tests don’t lend themselves to doing a good job of that. That’s teaching to the test.

Example: A person weighs 1200 pounds (The world record is considerably more than that). They lose 150 pounds a year for four years – that’s 600 pounds they’ve lost. But are they going to be healthy at 600 pounds? Pass a simple health test? No, they still can’t get out of bed without help. They are still going to score in the bottom 1% of people as far as health issues – just like they did when they weighed 1200 pounds – you have seemingly made zero progress in improving their health on the health test in 4 years – and if they lose 200 pounds in the fifth year they still weigh 400 pounds – they are still in the bottom 1% health wise and you’ve been working with them for 5 years!!! Why the disconnect? – because you are judging progress based on test results instead of reality. Will this person’s family be thrilled that they have now lost 800 pounds? Will they think the health team has done a poor job? That is why parents often are happy with their child’s progress when the tests seem to show otherwise – they know their kid has had 1200 pounds of issues as far as where they were educationally and they have made huge progress. That’s why teachers often get frustrated about some testing and teaching to the test.

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