Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being at a conference on hosted by the Education Writer’s Association and the Carnegie Foundation here in NYC. It brought together an interesting group of education reporters, teacher bloggers, and education “experts” (= policy people & researchers) to discuss the topic of teacher effectiveness. The event was quite unique and engaging, though I would have liked to see teachers featured on panels as “education experts” as well.

At the end of the day we broke into small groups and talked more directly with the reporters about ideas for stories. Here one I’d like to suggest:

Does innovative teaching lead to better test scores?

On the one hand, everyone from principals to President Obama is saying that it’s bad to “teach to the test.” On the other hand, when it comes time to look at data and evaluate students, teachers and schools, test scores are the measure.

Many people, including Judy Zimny of ASCD who was a great panel presenter yesterday, have asserted that innovative teaching that excites students around content leads naturally to higher test scores.

In other words, there is no need to teach to the test. Is that true? It is a question I’ve been trying to answer myself. I see some evidence that it is true, and some evidence it might not be universally true. What are the factors at play here?

Let’s hear from innovative teachers who see big gains in their students’ test scores but do not seem to “teach to the test.” What populations do they work with? What type of schools do they work in? What do they focus their curriculum on, and to what do they attribute the success of their students on the test? Are there things these teachers think are important to teach, but leave out, because they aren’t tested skills or content? Where do “soft” skills like collaboration, self-reflection, creativity, and empathy figure into their classrooms and curriculum?

Let’s also hear from teachers who refuse to teach to the test and who may not see huge gains on test scores, but who have been deemed excellent, innovative teachers by other measures, such as National Board Certification, feedback by their colleagues, school leaders, students and parents. What is their rationale for the choices they make regarding curriculum and teaching style? What growth do they see in their students, and why don’t they think it’s being measured accurately or at all or by the standardized test? I have read blog posts from Bill Ferriter, an expert teacher for sure, who incorporates digital media into his classroom in extraordinary ways and who teaches his students to be global citizens–he has at times mentioned that his students’ test scores are lower than those of the other teachers on his hall, because he focuses so much energy on skills he believes are of extreme importance, but do not get tested.

Finally, I’d like to hear from teachers who do teach to the test, and who would not describe themselves as particularly innovative–both the ones who see their students make gains on the test and those who try and do everything they’re told to do, but don’t. How do they conceptualize what they are doing? How do conditions at their schools factor into their decisions and outcomes? What does success on the test mean to their students and them?

Also, what do parents want for their kids? How do they feel about their child’s educational experience in relation to their perception about whether their child is being taught to the test or not?

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