Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teaching to the Test is Making me CRAZY

Today I said something to a colleague I instantly regretted. It was about teaching kids in preparation for a national test. But it's testing season, and I am nearing my limit. I overheard a girl walking out of class saying "I went up 6 points!" This Friday we are having a "Prep Rally" in advance of upcoming state tests. It seems as if every conversation with colleagues winds up with someone expressing anxiety about their students' test scores and the way that we are "being measured" on the basis of these scores. Of course, we don't know exactly how we're being measured, or when, or by whom. We have been told what to expect of our students, but we have not been told what's expected of us. This has led to rampant paranoia and rumors of people being dismissed or "reassigned" if their scores don't go up, but I have yet to see this actually happen to an actual person.

As if the shadowy Big Brother atmosphere weren't bad enough, many of my colleagues express a distressing faith in the validity of this method of measurement. They use phrases like "moving kids" and "big win." But the whole point of a "big win" is that it's a way to have kids make a "big gain" on their scores by teaching them something small. In other words, it's a test-taking strategy, it's not a way for students to actually develop as learners. **Update: In fact, at our "Prep Rally," students were told that the "gain" that they must make in order to be competitive for colleges involves getting just one more question right on the test. One question is the difference between making a gain and not making it. One question can also be the difference between a bad and a good night's sleep, a lousy or a decent breakfast, or a healthy day and a headache day. so how is this measuring learning?

Margaret Spellings, the Education Secretary who brought us No Child Left Behind, was fond of saying "There's really nothing pedagogically flawed about teaching to a test, as long as what the test is measuring is what you want the kids to know." How true that is.