The purpose of any teacher is to ensure the best education her students could get. Student learning should based on cognitive thinking skills and learning, not just declarative knowledge and basic skills. In the United States, however, high-stakes testing has complicated these efforts, and are used to process a student’s knowledge and the effective ways of teaching. These high-stakes tests are being used to compare students, schools, and school boards across the nation for each district. Teachers and school administrators are often blamed for poor test results of students, that are then reported to the media. High-stakes testing if used correctly can help a teacher know a student’s strengths and weaknesses in school so as to better help them succeed. A high-stakes test is one that is given and graded under strictly monitored conditions. These tests are used in grades K-8 and once in high school to measure learning outcomes of students. Students typically take norm-based tests comparing their knowlegeability to a small part of student body in a norm-group. Other students undertake criteria-based testing to compare their knowledgeability or a standard of acceptable status in a certain area.
Issues with Teaching to Test
Very little people would argue against the necessity of providing teachers and students with the information on the procedure of a high-stakes test or its format. Even the brightest student could miss one item or more if they do not understand how a test is formatted and meant to be carried out. Teachers have to be taught what an appropriate time limit is for test taking familiarization yes but they also need not sacrifice important curricular content in the hopes of driving up high test scores. A week of drills prior to test taking is too much. However, even one day of drills is non-appropriate if students are being taught the ways to answer test questions, Popham (2001). Teaching to test has a “dumbing” effect on teaching as well as learning because practice, drills, worksheets, and the like consume great amounts of classroom time. As high-stakes tests only concentrate on a small amount of school curriculum, time spent on test taking skills emphasizes too highly on basic courses and pays little attention to thinking skills. Research suggests that teachers who teach-to-test have students who have higher testing scores their learning actually falters.
Teachers who address the entire curriculum not only have students who may bring up their testing scores, but they are providing the student with a firm foundation for gainful success both in future education and employment. Teaching to test not only cuts basis of teaching but it also slims the curriculum so non-tested subjects get less time in the day. Class time is usually taken away from subjects like art, band, drama and sports so teachers may stick to subjects such as math, reading, and social studies . “Everything that has to do with the tests have been given such high priority, that there is no bottom line now but that… The bottom line question comes down to, “Well, what’s going to help them do better on the test?” And if it isn’t going to help them do better on the test then we just don’t have time for it right now. (Wright, 2002, p10).” Volante (2004) Teaching such a slender curriculum is highly likely to turn away students whose academic strengths are outside common tested subjects therefore, outside the teach to test curriculum. Unfortunately, this narrowing happens most at schools serving poor or minority students, where pressure to meet the improved test scores are in high context. Teaching to test in these schools one may argue can lead to students becoming unengaged and truant. Teaching to test also destroys the truthfulness of large-scale assessments. Say you take two schools, one who strictly teaches to test and the other who teaches instruction in a general body involving all subjects and curriculum equally.
Both schools will have good standardized testing scores but the later school will actually come out ahead because they will have gained more knowledge, strategies, and a better foundation. This is not shocking, considering teaching to test puts stress on memory skills rather than the application of new skills and knowledge. Thus, the productive truthfulness of a high-stakes test is unable to function properly when teaching to test strategies are frequently used (Burger & Krueger, 2003). Stripped of its force of influence to employ judgments about the skills and knowledge of students, a high-stakes test also loses it influence to conform teaching as a testing measure. Teaching to test can lead to weak and misleading ideas about school programs. Smith and Fey (2000) note that practicing content known to be on the test can make a school look better than a another school that did not use such strategies Volante (2004). Schools may be wrongly arranged as highly successful because of their use of high-stakes test drills rather than the actual knowledge of the students themselves. Money may also be distributed poorly based on testing scores that do not contain key elements of education. Another danger involved in teaching to test is the negative effect it has on the teaching profession as a whole.
The exertion applied to do well on high-stakes test can have an absolute opposite effect of the one we see or want to see. Voltane(2004). Teachers are getting stressed because they have to spend so much time teaching their students to test rather than actual instructional knowledge in all subjects of need. Teaching to test only cause’s feelings of exhaustion, and disillusionment in the whole testing process. One teacher summarized her distress with the schools test driven agenda by commenting, “ The saddest thing is that up until two years ago, I counseled young people, “ Come into Teaching it is a wonderful profession.” Now I counsel them to find something else because this is not the profession I would choose for myself.” (Wright, 2002, p. 28)(Voltane, 2004). Not surprisingly the focus and expectation of teaching to test has many teachers saddened and second guessing their choice to be in this field of employment. In addition to previously stated problems with teaching to test, it may also dissolve the basic-knowledge skill growth of the tested subjects. Neil(2003) reported cases where students have been taught to read by learning to look at answers in multiple choice questions then scan a short passage for a clue to selecting a correct answer. Independent evaluators revealed that the children could not explain what they read even though they get the answer correct.
The hidden fact is that there could be a large number of test smart students who lack the knowledge of basic skills to gain successful status in post-secondary education or employment situations. It seems only obvious to think that teaching to test gives students a false sense of their abilities. Artificially high test scores may lead student into a false sense of security. Those heading to post-secondary education may have the worst false sense of expectation of all. Focusing heavily on testing will not allow students to focus on and learn the necessary skills for having success in a university setting such as making oral presentations, doing science experiments, or writing a research paper such as this one here. These are skills that are not assessed during standardized testing and therefore not given the time needed to learn. Alternative to Teaching to Test
In what ways can teachers avoid the urge to spend so much time and preparation toward teaching to test? This will be no small task when you consider being judge against co-workers and other schools who use this strategy. Preliminary and senior teachers need to be warned about the dangers and complications of teaching to test and trained on the good test preparation strategies that promote authentic learning (Volante, 2004). A good way to help teachers learn constructive preparation is through in-service workshops that clearly outline unethical preparation activities. Teachers should be trained in curriculum-teaching of a specific type of body format of knowledge or set of cognitive skills of a given test. Therefore, teachers should be teaching the content rather than the items themselves when preparing students for the standardized testing. When armed with more knowledge and testing strategies teachers will be able to arm students by using more repetitive training processes such as skill and drill races.
Students who learn this way will be much more likely to apply this knowledge outside of testing areas of learning as well helping them stay more focused and improve grade and confidence. School boards and school administrators also need to have similar training. They need to be going around frequently to classrooms and counseling teachers who are spending too much time in the teach to test habit as to ensure the students of their school get a good quality education. They must also be wary, shouldn’t it be presumed suspicious if a student that is failing classes gets very high scores on the standardized testing that there is too much teach to test going on? School districts should monitor schools closely if they suddenly go from constantly being in the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile because this means that they obviously decided to employ the teach to test strategies and are robbing students of a valuable education.
Lastly, the public needs to become more aware of student’s needs. Student’s educational needs cannot merely be left to numbers reported by the media each year. The public must be made aware of how students are doing throughout the year not just on standardized testing. There is a need for more concern than just this. If parents want to know how their students are going to do in the upcoming year then they need to be informed about how they are doing currently and then what the test are that they will be taking and how they will be scored and purpose of them. Conclusion
Teaching to test fails not only the students but also everyone in the community. If we ensure that we teach our students authentic knowledge-based education involving all subjects they will not only do better in school but on the standardized testing as well. Ensuring to teach our teachers and school administrators better ways to instruct our students on how to prepare for testing and learning content of what may be on the test will help create less stress on the teachers and more success in the whole school district overall making the jobs and benefits for the administrators and teachers alike.
Burger, J.M., & Krueger, M. (2003) A balanced approach to high-stakes achievement testing: An analysis of the literature with policy implications. International Electronic Journal in Learning, Online at http://www.ucalgary.ca/~iejll.
Neil, M. (2003b). The dangers of testing. Educational Leadership, p 43-46.
Popham, W. J. (2001). Teaching to the test. Educational Leadership, p. 16-20.
Smith, M. L., & Fey, P. (2000) Validity and accountability of high-stakes
testing. Journal of Teacher Education, p. 334-344.
Volante, L. (2004). Canadian Journal of Educational Policy, p1-7.
Wright, W.E. (2002). Current Issues in Education, Online at http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume5/number5.