Teaching to the Test

by NYC Firm Schools on January 23, 2010

Passing state standardized tests is one of the freedoms that Firm Schools are able to benefit from. The benefit is not in the absence of testing, but in the ability to educate students beyond the boundaries of “teaching to the test.”

For many public schools, teachers are faced with the following dilemma. No matter how well a student is learning or how advanced their critical thinking skills, if they have not seen a question posed in a certain way and know the way to answer it, they will have a difficult time on the standardized testing. Schools with a percentage of students who do not pass the test have funds withheld until the acceptable amount of students pass. No money means no school. Standardized tests, beginning in the middle years, are such a focus in schools because the school itself needs students to pass.

Are students the better for this? Is there education richer or more robust? Are they developing critical thinking skills and reasoning, or the ability to take a particular test well? These are the arguments discussed with Standardized Testing.

In a recent Huffington Post article, the focal importance of standardized tests in the U.S. and beyond was discussed:

We argue about testing in the US, but the focus on and stakes related to testing is much higher in China and India where the tip of the human funnel is the 12th grade exam; to a large life options hang in the balance. In the US, there are lots of options and second chances; not so in India and China. As a result, the singular secondary focus is marks leading to success on the exit exam.

Students sat in rows quietly plowing through workbooks while teachers sat at their desk. It was among the most stifling middle grade programs I’ve ever seen.

The Head of School spoke to the constant ‘rigor v relevance’ dilemma, but said test scores easily tipped the scale.

It is difficult enough to comprehend the consequences of a school body under-performing on a standardized test. It is more difficult still to comprehend the consequences of a student who has had the freedom of true learning put aside to focus on test-taking skills. It is even more difficult to comprehend the consequences of one test determining an entire future. For many, however, that is a reality.

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