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Teaching to the Test

Jaclyn Goldstein

For education majors, it is not uncommon to have discussions based on developing authentic assessment and innovative lesson plans in their education classes. Professors share rich knowledge of different ideas that their students can implement in their own classrooms one day to create lifelong learners. One issue that concerns both students and professors alike is the growing pressure for teachers to teach to standardized tests. Indeed we have all had our ample share of standardized tests since we were in elementary school, but as the number of tests increase, so does the value that state and federal governments place on the results. Senior Childhood Education major, Margaret Reddington, feels that “students lose site of the real reason why they’re learning” and that they are simply “learning what the state wants them to learn.” It is not surprising that many students and educators share the same view with Reddington as teaching to the test is simply an ineffective approach for maximum learning.

The amount of tools and technology that are available to teachers to support learning in the classroom is constantly rising from interactive SMART boards to IPads. However, while the government puts more and more emphasis on testing, teachers are often discouraged from expanding on lessons or group projects due to time constraint in efforts to cram chapters of material that could be asked on a state test. Also, although effective teachers endorse student creativity, they are forced to teach students specific guidelines that they must meet for the mandated assessments. C.W. Post alumna, Lucy Portugal is currently an elementary school teacher in the Port Washington School District. When asked her opinion on the emphasis of teaching to the test she responded by saying, “Today in education, testing has become a high stakes issue.” Her advice for teachers or future educators is to “maintain creative and authentic teaching practices when considering testing requirements.”

What makes teaching to the test even more controversial is how teachers are being evaluated based on their students’ test results. In recent years, the Obama administration established the Race to the Top program which essentially provides grants to schools that display excellence in test scores. However, one must ask should the schools that teach to the test really be the ones to be applauded, or should the schools that encourage constructivism in the classroom and independent thinking be the ones to be praised?

Professor of Education, Dr. Bette Schneiderman provides an alternative way to assess student achievement. “Rather than teach to the test, picture teachers creating learning environments with meaningful learning outcomes clearly stated upfront. Then, picture students needing to evidence their own learning to show that they have accomplished their goals. Learners can become empowered in such environments, needing to find and process information, ponder and work on solutions to problems, and create responses documenting both what they learned and responses to issues of value.” Dr. Schneiderman’s solution to assessment is designed to show what students have learned in their class, but at the same time fosters student originality and creativeness. Assessment of students’ knowledge is imperative. From assessments, teachers can collect data that will inform future teaching practices. At the same time, it should not dictate a teacher’s practices in a classroom. It is a challenge that teachers are encountering and one that future educators will surely be faced with. Nevertheless, let us not forget the true role(s) of a teacher.

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