Teaching to the Test

Yes, Linda Darling-Hammond and I disagree about a couple of things, namely our take on Teach For America. But in this article, High-quality standards, a curriculum based on critical thinking can enlighten our students I found myself nodding vehemently, sentence after sentence.

Testing is not the enemy. Any backwards-planner knows you start with the end vision. Then you ask yourself, “How will I measure whether the end vision has been achieved?”

When planning a unit on graphing, for example, I think about what I want students to know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the unit, which would include being able to generate a survey question and create a data collection table, administer the survey and collect data in the table, and create a graph to represent their data.

Then I think about how they will demonstrate what they know, understand, and can do in the form of an assessment. In this case, a performance assessment could be used to measure the vision. Since the assessment is rigorous and aligned to my vision, then it makes perfect sense for me to “teach to the test.” In other words, I need to teach them the specific knowledge and skills that will set them up for success on the final assessment.

In this way, the assessment really does dictate what we teach. “Teaching to the test” becomes problematic when the test only measures lower-level knowledge or specific subjects (which is what has happened under No Child Left Behind). In Texas, for example, science is not assessed until 5th grade. It is quite common for 5th grade science teachers to have to go back and teach all the 1st-5th grade science objectives because the previous four teachers only taught reading and math (the subjects that were tested).

Using assessments to measure progress is not the problem, nor is teaching to the test. The real problem is that the tests are not aligned with the skills our children need for participation in the 21st century.


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