Teaching to the test

A common knock against standardized testing of students is that it results in teaching to the test, usually with the explicit or implicit conclusion that the solution is to get rid of the test.

Of course having a standardized test results in teaching to the test.  But standardized testing if done right can be a good thing, a good way to compare the effectiveness of different schools.  If you’re concerned that teaching to the test results in students being taught the wrong things, then your test is not testing the right stuff.  Change the test.  Make the test test the things you actually want the students to learn.  Then when the schools teach to the test, they’ll be teaching what you want them to learn.

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2 Responses to Teaching to the test

  1. Greg says:

    I’m surprised to find my Republican-leaning self knocking up against your normally staunch Democratic positions, but I have to object to this one.

    Education is far more than learning stuff, it’s most importantly learning how to think. Standardized tests don’t favor critical-thinking skills in general, they favor the kids who’ve studied the beat-the-test techniques and who have crammed their heads with the agreed-upon answers to expected questions.

    Standardization implies a moment towards a consensus, so you have to take into account the way the tests are generated. No commitee is going to agree on the out-of-left-field questions that evaluate general analysis and evaluation skills; they’re going to stick with tried and true, lower liability approaches. They can be tricky, but not too tricky. These approaches are studied by the teach-to-the-test sycophants, are well-known, and can be taught to the exclusion of true critical thinking. Don’t forget to consider the hand-maiden of standardized tests for students – the standardized evaluation of teachers.

    Test-concious teachers are going to be more highly regarded and promoted if the only criteria for their evaluation are the scores of his or her students on a standardized test. What happens to the instructors that truely challenge their pupils, who look for and encourage the willingness to attempt alternate approaches to solving a problem; who want to allow that absurd idea to be played out, because it just might be the next Einstein or Darwin tackling it? They get passed over or fired when their students’ scores are lower than the moron in the next room who has figured out that spending months to prepare the rugrats for a couple of hours of rote-work are more important than whether his kids’ minds are growing dull with the tedium.

    Repetition is great for learning how to react a certain way at a certain time in a certain situation. Personally, the best teacher I ever had in school never taught from a book – he confounded us and set us against each other; waited until everyone had settled down before stirring the pot again, and taught me risk, daring and innovation were good things.

  2. radial says:

    I know my position is not likely to happen in the real world of real tests, but it’s merely intended to say “if teaching to the test is what happens, then change the tests to test what you want the kids to know”. If you want them to know how to think creatively, then figure out how to test that ability.

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