Thursday, February 22, 2007

Teaching to the Test

One of the most common complaints about the TAKS test, by parents and by teachers, is that instruction is frequently reduced to 'teaching to the test'. Within the context of rote preparation for taking a test, this is a valid complaint. When the goal becomes passing rather than learning, this is a valid complaint. When students are discouraged or prevented from exploring anything other than what will be on the test, this is a valid complaint.

However, in the context of teaching and learning being aligned with a test that is aligned with desired outcomes, this is not necessarily a valid complaint.

When I began teaching more than 25 years ago, there was not a defined curriculum scope and sequence with defined outcomes - you simply tried to pace yourself so that by the end of the school year you covered the textbook. When I began consulting with school administrators and teachers more than 15 years ago, not much had changed. Curriculum varied from school to school and from classroom to classroom based on a combination of whatever textbook was adopted and the teacher's interests and areas of skill. "Achievement" testing was typically done using one of three standardized tests - the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Stanford Achievement Test, or the California Achievement Test. If there was any connection between what was taught and what was tested, it was generally coincidental.

One of the results of Texas' journey from TABS to TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS to the End of Course Exams that appear likely to come from the current legislative session was the development of the TEKS - Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which defines what students should learn at each grade in each subject. No longer is curriculum defined by textbook publishers. There is alignment between grade levels and across campuses, and alignment with the test. In this context, teaching to the test is not a bad thing.

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