What Does *Teaching to the Test* MEAN, Exactly? Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


What Does *Teaching to the Test* MEAN, Exactly?

27 April 2010 at 2:49:22 PM

I've been watching *The Wire" this week, season 4 to be exact, and in the episode, all the teachers had to drop their normal teaching routines and plans in order to prepare the kids to take the state-mandated No Child Left Behind test. In the episode, because language arts scores were down, even the math teacher was told to teach english.

Now, that's a television show. I got to wondering how it actually WORKS for teachers around the country. I remember going to a GRISD meeting last year where the presenter said that they were doing practice tests about every 6 weeks in preparation to take the TAKS. That's a whole lot of time spent, not really teaching (at least in my view) but teaching kids how to learn out to drill for rote answers.

So, is it a good thing? I was reminded about the whole issue of learning versus passing tests when I read this.

Forcing schools to increase their pass rates gives the illusion that their education "reform" is working. Getting better test scores only proves the current class is better at taking tests than the previous classes. It does not prove the current class has better analytical skills, imagination or creative thinking - the most important parts of education.

and this, from 2006


The phrase "teaching to the test" is used widely but seldom defined, causing much confusion about what it means and whether it is bad or good. Indeed, in a recent editorial in the Washington Post, the respected education reporter Jay Matthews claimed that teaching to the test simply means aligning classroom instruction and curriculum to standards; the practice is a good one that should be supported.3 Teachers rushed to tell Matthews that what he described was not the kind of teaching to the test that they and their colleagues are worried about.

Assessment expert W. James Popham helps to clarify the difference. He defines two kinds of assessment-aware instruction: "curriculum teaching" and "item-teaching."4 Curriculum teachers focus on the full body of knowledge and skills represented by test questions even though tests can employ only a sample of questions to assess students' knowledge about a topic. For example, if students will be tested on fractions, curriculum teachers will cover range of knowledge and skills related to fractions so students understand what fractions are, know how to manipulate them mathematically, understand how to use them to solve more complex problems, and are able to communicate with and about them. Item teachers narrow their instruction, organizing their teaching around clones of the particular questions most likely to be found on the test — and thus teach only the bits of knowledge students are most likely to encounter on exams. For example, item teachers might drill students on a small set of vocabulary words expected to be assessed rather than employing instructional strategies that help students develop the kind of rich and broad vocabulary that best contributes to strong reading comprehension.....

For example, some worry that item teaching and other test-preparation strategies are taking over more of the weeks and months prior to testing. "They are losing a week of instruction to testing, which is bad enough," lamented a commentator in the Chicago Sun-Timeslast March. "But the test week comes on top of two or more weeks spent teaching kids how to take the test effectively."7 Others worry that the negative effect on instruction stretches back to august and September, with "drill and kill" strategies that substitute memorization for understanding and strangle good instruction all year long.

What do you think? I'd love to have some teachers talk about this, pro or con. I'm not a teacher but I think if I was, I wouldn't want to be spending so much time emphasizing passing a test.


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