by Alexis Butcher
As a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law(NCLB) in 2002, schools have had to become “accountable.” This has resulted in requiring all schools to test students in grades 2-12 in reading, math, and science. Each state chooses its own test and standards for proficiency. Schools that don’t show that students are making “adequate yearly progress” towards achieving proficiency are subject to federal sanctions, including loss of federal funds, providing free tutoring, allowing students to transfer to another schools, and if all else fails, a complete restructuring of the school.
It is one viewpoint that as a result, teachers, specifically high school teachers, are not bettering their students because they are teaching to the test, rather than helping students gain the skills necessary to be successful in higher education.
But why is teaching to the test a bad thing? In my experience, it isn’t that teachers aren’t properly preparing their students. Teachers endeavor to teach students how to go about solving a type of problem, and that the method of solving the problem is meant to help the student learn a specific skill that they need to learn later in life.
I ask myself, when presented with this dilemma, how true this statement is. Are teachers only looking for their students to succeed in passing high school, or is there something more to what they are doing? To answer this question I considered how teachers go about “teaching to the test”. In my experience, the teacher never taught to only one test. When referring to English, my teacher would give us, the students, similar prompts and help up to formulate an essay that would meet the parameters required.
Recently I came across an article in Great Schools, a national source of school information for parents. Within the article, the authors also questioned “teaching to the test” and why this was viewed as a bad thing. They went on further to reason that if the test measures the skills students are expected to be learning, and teachers are preparing the students with those skills, that then tests can then be good. Furthermore, Nancy Grasmick, the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, reminded me of the important distinction between teaching to the test and teaching the test. How when the teacher is teaching to the test they are mirroring good teaching that will enhance learning. This is often what teacher’s have done for me in the past by teaching a skill, rather than a cheat sheet on how to pass a test. With this new-found knowledge, and practice I have now been able to cultivate the skill of writing an essay for college. Similarly in math, my teachers would always give us problems to practice similar to what would be on the test. By doing this I knew how to approach certain problems when confronted with them on the test, and how to approach math tests in the future. I also felt this was important since it allowed me the reassurance in high school of knowing that I am developmentally on track, according to the state of California, to be prepared for college. I found that Jeanie Fritzshe, the current district level curriculum coordinator, former teacher, and mentor in Irvine, California schools agreed with me. In her own experience, without the test many teachers would be less conscientious about addressing grade-level standards.
While teacher’s may be “teaching to the test” instead of focusing on this, we must instead focus on how they are going about it. By focusing on the end result instead, I have noticed that we, as students, are being taught skills to help us on not only on the test but also in other areas of out academic career that will help in the long run. Such as how to approach in class essays, ways to properly study for math, key ways to discern what is being asked in a question quickly, etc. I believe that whether or not the student further cultivates the skills and applies them to the rigors of college is up to them.
I’m interested in what you think. Did you or do you feel former/current teachers prepared you to face the rigors of college? Especially when it came to dealing with written assignments?
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