Sunday, October 16, 2005

Teaching To The Test ?

We all realize that, yes, we are teaching to the test. Our principal says so, in these exact words, with the regret of a caring professional who wishes it was different, but knows the realities. You gotta feel for her. After all, this is not her deal. Taking a stand against the mandates of our state and federal government would be career suicide. Instead, she tries to find a way to meld the testing expectations with building/maintaining an enriching learning environment. The question remains: does teaching to the test preclude enriching teaching?

I use to think yes. Now I am not so sure.

As a parent, I have seen my 17 year old easily pass the required SOL's [Standards of Learning]... ("They're easy, Mom"); still she enjoys the extensions and deeper study provided by her honors and AP courses. She and her top flight classmates continue to be challenged and even at times, delighted by her classwork.... and her teachers.

Her friends who don't excell academically, some spec ed and some "just not good at school" (her quote), spend much of their classtime learning what has come easy to my daughter: "essential knowledge" as filtered out by the state and county, HOW to take tests, and any gap information ( knowledge they missed in previous years). There is no time for broad, deep, thoughtful projects and activities.

The good news is they have a better chance to pass the test because of the focus on the tests.

And if you want more for your students than the opportunity to memorize what has been deemed essential by the test makers, that's also the bad news.

In my own special ed classroom, 5 first and second grade emotionally disabled students move slowly through the basic "essential" curriculum as they fight the emotional/behavioral challenges in their young lives. I no longer have to weed through the curriculum myself trying to find the most important aspects on which to concentrate. When so much of my time is spent on behavior management and therapeutic interactions, I have come to really appreciate the thick volumes of ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE my students are expected to learn. And that is a good thing.


Jaynne said...
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Mr. McNamar said...

Yes, Mrs. Ris, there is teaching to the test. Great comic to go with your post. I just had my first real experience of teaching to our test. To my 9th graders who take the WASL next year, I handed out an assignment in which they write a quiz for a book chapter. The handout has WASL stems on it. Meaning that the basic form of the questions that the WASL asks are the mold for the questions they need to form. The reason--to familiarize them with the test. I even said it. I hated it, but I know that if my students are not familiar with they style of question, they will struggle. But, it still doesn't tell me if they've learned anything. I can get into my blogger account change some things in the format simply by following directions, but I don't get it all!

Mrs. Ris said...

Yep, teaching the format and other nuances of testing is important. In our school we agreed that by the middle/end of second grade, all our math tests will be given in multiple choice form so they get very use to it by the first SOL test in spring of third grade.

Sad but true. Critical learning time spent on these kinds of details. And yet, if we don't, we set them up for failure. So I'm with you.... teach format and style, and sleep soundly at night, letting go of stuff we can't control.