May 2008’s Think-About: Teaching to the Test

My friend, Tony Vincent, sent me this link today-

As an educator- and a former music educator- this really hit home with me. While I agree that schools should be accountable for ensuring that every child learns the skills necessary to be successful, I don’t agree that testing them ad nauseum is the way to prove they’re learning. The result, as most of you know, is that schools and teachers feel they need to teach to the test. Creativity is not only sapped out of the students, but from the teachers and their art of teaching as well.

A lot of classroom teachers and support staff resent the stipulations in NCLB. I guess my questions are:

1) In order to prove AYP, are we required to subject our students to a litany of tests? Are there other acceptable methods to show progress? Is this a case of misinterpreting requirements?

2) Critical thinking, creativity, learning to express oneself in an intelligent and responsible manner… aren’t these important life skills? Ah, but how does one test and prove that a student has learned these things? Too many times, we ignore content and skill that can’t be tested objectively.

3) There is research that shows students who are asked to use higher levels of thinking, not just comprehension and regurgitation of facts, perform at higher levels on standardized tests (anyone have any good examples to share?). Since this is the case, wouldn’t it make more sense to prepare students to do more than just excel on a test?

I can’t stop thinking about this today. Kids are dropping out of school at record paces- 1 in 4, according to a University of Minnesota study. 1 in 4! We need to keep them engaged and involved in school… help them learn the skills that are relevant to their world.

Pulling students out of Art, Music, PE, or worse yet, eliminating those programs in order to concentrate on the “core” subjects is unthinkable to me. For many students, the only reason they stay in school is because of a music program, or athletics, or a talent for painting. Reading, writing, math, science… they are essential. I won’t argue that; however, research about good Physical Education programs, music programs, and art programs have shown time and time again that kids perform better overall when involved in any of these programs.

Weaving Digital Literacy and 21st Century skills into the mix… it sometimes looks as if we have all these extras to teach. If we could simply learn to teach DIFFERENTLY… it could work. It does work. There are teachers right now who are successfully implementing these skills into their curriculum, and the students reap the benefits. These same students are outperforming their peers on standardized tests. In the next month, I’m going to be posting as many of these examples as I can find. If you have some you would like to share, please add to the comments!

A final thought, from Mr. Holland’s Opus:

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t
going to have anything to read or write about. [my emphasis]

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