Teaching to the Test: The Worst or Not So Bad?


The jury's in and the ruling among many educators and parents is that "teaching to the test" is essentially bad. That is to say, a curriculum that is built solely around standardized tests (and getting kids up to speed for those tests), is limited--and limiting to children. But wait, an article on greatschools.net says teaching to the test may not not always a bad thing. They say it often depends on the test and the teacher.


Some background: The initial concern with this mode of teaching came about after the No Child Left Behind Law of 2002 forced schools and districts to guarantee that low-performing students be brought up to state educational standards--or else. In the rush to get grades up, many teachers abandoned more wholistic teaching techniques for a curriculum only focused on test-taking. But supporters of the NCLB say don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

greatschools.net affirms, It's All About Alignment. This basically means that teachers and students have a clear idea of what they are expected to learn. In the best of all possible worlds, the state provides textbooks and curriculum that match the standards, and the tests measure achievement of the standards. 

Follow? It's a balancing act. We should keep in mind that developing test-taking skills is a critical part of school years, and focusing on making kids powerful test takers has its pluses. But we should weigh that against what a teacher's group posted last spring citing a report on standardized tests: Teachers have cut back on community involvement and hands on learning activities in the classroom in order to cater to testing. Time devoted to social sciences and electives is dramatically reduced or cut out entirely due to testing focus.

So if you are a mom who has ever felt concerned about the correlation between tests and your child's curriculum, note these sample "Questions to Ask at Your School" from greatschools.net--and really ask them!

  • What is the school or district doing about students who consistently score below grade level?
  • How much time and what kinds of activities do teachers use to prepare students for tests?
  • Are subjects that are not being tested (such as social studies and the arts) being adequately covered in the curriculum?
  • How are the tests changing the nature of teaching and learning at the school?
  • Does the school use test results to identify areas that need improvement or to target support for certain students?
  • What is the school doing to address any differences in achievement among particular groups of students?

  • What are the content standards for each subject and grade tested?
  • What is being sacrificed to make room for these test-prep activities?

Do your kids' teachers "teach to the test?" Is it working for you and your child?

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