Teaching to the Test Is Not a Bad Practice Anymore


       Education has this phrase:

Teaching to the Test

In the past, this phrase was a derogatory phrase that meant (at the extreme) the only thing we do during class time is to prepare students to take a test.  This implied that we never taught additional topics that weren't on the test, and that we never taught at a higher rigor level than what was required on the test.  The other (more broad) implication was even worse; We didn't concern ourselves with whether or not students actually learned anything, our only concern was that they got a high score on a test.

       This sort of Teaching to the Test probably did occur at many public schools, but I would hope that teachers (and schools) never lost their desire to encourage learning over mere test grades.  Indeed, teaching at a higher rigor level than was required on a test would serve the dual purpose of (1) helping students gain a higher level of conceptual understanding, as well as (2) helping students to score well on a test.  So we had incentives to go beyond the content that appeared on a test.  

       Today we see teaching to the test much differently.  First of all, we are now seeing standardized tests that require much more than merely a single-word, or single-number answer.  Today's test require students to demonstrate a high level of understanding.  This means that the days of memorizing formulas or (even worse) memorizing shortcuts and tricks are over.  Student who are only able to follow procedures and answer low-level questions will not earn high marks on today's tests.  Secondly, I feel that there is a renewed interest in teaching students how to engage and reason and think and argue and prove.  These are the skills that lead to a better conceptual understand over and above the old get-the-right-answer sort of teaching that took place in the past.  In this world, Teaching to the Test is the same thing as simple "Good Teaching".

       I know that the issue of standardized testing has become as controversial and divisive as the abortion issue to some people.  I found a great article on the Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing that may provide additional information to those folks that only see one side of this issue.  Regardless of your views, all people want their children to do well in school and (I hope) "doing well" means learning and not getting-good-grades for most people.  The primary objective for our public schools is certainly learning.  If students aren't learning, than there's no point in coming to school.  

       Today I am seeing a resurgence in helping teachers to explore classroom strategies that help students to learn concepts so well that they can teach them to other students.  Gone are the days of rote memorization. That sort of teaching isn't good enough if we want to prepare our students for the world of work and further learning in their futures.  Teaching to the Test is good if it helps our students to be better problem solvers.  

       Teaching to the Test is just good teaching.



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