Teaching to the Test

Katy Golden


Shepard, L., Hanaway, J., & Baker, E, ed.s. (2009). Standards, assessment, and accountability. Education policy white paper. National Aacdemy of Education, Washington, DC. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED531138.pdf

I thought this article brought up a lot of great points because, being in the education world today, you can easily understand how tempting it is to teach based on the standardized tests your students are taking – in my case, those tests are a big part of my evaluation, so it’s important to me that they do well! However, when education policy makers are the ones deciding what’s on the test and how it’s formatted, it often makes it so that what’s being tested – and therefore what’s being taught to – is not useful knowledge nor does it involve 21st century skills, rather being rote question-and-answer trivia. This article discusses the idea of standards-based assessments, and how the accountability to standards creates pressure on teachers to “teach to a test.”

This article discusses the complications of having politically created standards, which can lead to either “overly full, encyclopedic standards” in the case of some states, and “vague, general statements” in others. The authors describe the growing movement to the creation of new standards that distinguish between performance standards and content standards, and recommend that educators be given a voice in determining standards. This was a relief to me to hear, because I’d love to hear more about educators being the ones to decide standards. In my old district, they were just starting to incorporate teachers in the development of district wide tests, and hopefully that trend will continue!

Professional Learning and the Unfinalizable

1.  Parr, G., & Bulfin, S. (2015). Professional Learning and the Unfinalizable: English Educators Writing and Telling Stories Together. Changing English: Studies In Culture & Education, 22(2), 157-175. doi:10.1080/1358684X.2015.1026186
This article was written in Australia, where interestingly, the standards-based education movement seems to have had as great an impact upon teaching as it has here in the United States.  The article raises questions about some of the unintentional consequences standards-based education may have upon teachers, their professional development, their creativity, and particularly upon students’ inquiry.  The article specifically focused upon English teachers, but there are certainly implications for other disciplines.  One of the key casualties of the standards-based movement seems to have been the ability of teachers to negotiate outcomes with their students: “What are you hoping to gain from this research?”, and “What do you think we need to learn from this activity?” are not common discussions any more, as teachers are told from on high what the students need to learn and must simply bring the students along for the ride.
I found this article very interesting, as I have always been a bit skeptical about the ideas involved in the standards-based movement.  While it is certainly true that well-educated students ought to know and be able to do certain things, those bits of knowledge and skill are not always the holy grail that they are made out to be.  Sometimes the process of learning how to learn can be lost within the push to meet a certain standard.  It is also important to remember that not every educational outcome can be quantified.  I liked the fact that the teachers in this article were doing a lot of narrative writing about their teaching experiences.  Anyone who has been a teacher knows that there is much more to it than what the results of a standardized test may show.