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February 20, 2006

“Teaching To The Test” Is “Teaching To The Standards”

At last! Someone writing about the current testing regime prevalent in American schools who realizes that the evil notion of “teaching to the test” is, in reality, teaching to the standards set by the state.

Those who complain are not really talking about teaching to the state test. Unless teachers sneak into the counseling office and steal a copy, which can get them fired, they don't know what's on the test. They are teaching not to the test but to the state standards -- a long list of things students are supposed to learn in each subject area, as approved by the state school board.

Hardly anybody complains about teaching to a standard. Teacher-turned-author Susan Ohanian is trying to change this, and she refers to all advocates of learning standards as "Standardistos." But she has not made much headway, mostly because standards make sense to parents like me. We are not usually included in discussions of testing policy, but we tend to vote in large numbers, and everybody knows that any governor or president who came out against standards for schools and learning would soon be looking for work in the private sector.

Those who object to such standards (including the wrong-headed Ohanian) are really objecting to good education. After all, look the standards for my 10th Grade World History classes. Do you really find anything objectionable there? Anything that should not, reasonably speaking, be a part of a World History class? If anything, these TEKS (Texas Essential knowledge and Skills) provide a pretty good overview of the subject. When looked at in the context of the overall standards for grades 1-12, you find that they provide a great scope and sequence for learning. The TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests to those standards – so if my colleagues and I teach to those standards, our students should pass the Exit Level test in 11th grade. That is not to say that I don’t have issues with the TAKS, but the fact that it is standards driven is not one of them.





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While I agree that teaching to standards is essential, I still think that teaching to a test results. Every test has its own style. When we teach to that specific style, we are teaching to the test. Take Washington state for example. Our WASL is a standards based test. I know for certain that students who understand concepts in class have struggled with the way in which the WASL questions are asked. So, while I agree that standards are essential, teaching to a test still exists. And when teachers have to spend valuable class time focusing on preparing students how to take the test, I believe we are doing them an injustice.

|| Posted by Mr. McNamar, February 22, 2006 09:15 AM ||

Here's what I would do:

Instead of creating a test around those standards, I would just make each student go through the entire standards document and explain the answers to all the standards.

So, for example, when they get to "(A)identify the major eras in world history and describe their defining characteristics;" they would have their own open-ended answer prepared.

Of course, when an educational system is based on a set 'basket' of facts, like that, you need to have standards like "(A)identify elements in a contemporary situation that parallel a historical situation;" where the student takes two elements of his/her choosing and analyzes them, either on paper, or, as they sometimes do in Europe, orally.

So, I guess my main problem with the tests is that they aren't explicitly testing the standards enough.

Plus, I think that multiple-choice is not rigorous enough.

But my solution is very people-dependent and would require a lot of time. I'd suggest extending the school year for this type of assessment.

Any thoughts?

|| Posted by Jessie, February 22, 2006 10:57 AM ||

When most teachers speak about teaching to a test, they are not spouting eduspeak, but speaking about the common practice of disrupting the usual curriculum to teach the specific tricks necessary to pass a mandatory, high stakes test. We can try to sugarcoat it, or eduspeak it to death by calling it "teaching to the standards," but the actual practice remains the same.

And while the state educrats can doubtless recite various standards and claim that they all apply to a given high stakes test, it is often mere coincidence that what real teachers have to do to help their students pass coincides with those standards. This is particularly true in English. The mere act of reading and writing virtually anything involves the majority of English standards on a daily basis in virtually any state.

No, I'm sorry. "Teaching to the standards" does not change a sad and ugly reality, nor does it infuse high stakes testing with validity or value.

|| Posted by Mike, February 23, 2006 11:42 PM ||
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