Test to the teach(ing) – not vice versa

Spring is here; must be state testing time.

Lest we forget, the purpose of all this testing is to determine what students have actually learned. The goal of education is not to produce great test takers, but to prepare tomorrow’s citizens.

It’s a harsh reality that some students in this country receive a rich, challenging curriculum which allows them to perform consistently well on tests and other evaluations; while other children—particularly the children of the poor—are more often in schools focused on control and remediation. Ironically, many of those who insist on forcing teachers and students to spend inordinate amounts of time drilling basic skills believe they are helping “close the achievement gap.” In fact, they may actually be making it wider.

One of my TLN colleagues, David B. Cohen, who teaches at the upscale Palo Alto High School in CA, summed it up nicely:

What I wish people would realize is that “good” schools with high test scores don’t think of their instruction as some kind of reward for the test scores. They don’t focus on basic skills and then suddenly reach a point where they…develop deeper knowledge, enrich learning, engage students’ interests, etc. It’s not basics and then enrichment. The basics can be addressed more covertly, more authentically, and more effectively, when those skills are developed in a meaningful and motivational context. That type of environment shouldn’t be the exception, the unearned privilege of the children of privileged parents, and those lucky enough to attend schools that test well. That type of education is the birthright of every child.

The recent news that states are revising their tests may or may not be reason for optimism unless the purpose and the methods of these evaluations are going to be more honestly aligned with a fuller learning experience for students.

Our goal should be more schools where children thrive and bloom intellectually such as those profiled by our friends at Public School Insights (take a look at Taylor Ray Elementary School for example). Notice that the emphasis here is on what the teachers and other staff did TOGETHER that has made a powerful and consistent difference in student performance.

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