Monday, March 16, 2009

Teaching to the test

Letter to the editor in today's PG: "Teaching to the test isn't education":


Anonymous said...

Hooray! Those who KNOW that teaching to a test is bad educational policy know the true value of education. Teach the kids everything and they will succeed in life, teach them to fill in bubbles and give poorly thought out, oversimplified answers and you have given them the tools of failure! We can't make everyone the same. Homoginization is for milk not for people.

Kathy Fine said...

At the last EFA (Excellence for All) meeting, Mr. Roosevelt stated (in response to a PURE Reform question) that the superintendents that come from the Broad foundation (he is one of them) out perform their peers after 2 years on the job because "they do not teach to the test.

I do not have any children that are still taking the PSSAs, but that is counter to what I have heard from parents of elementary age students. One parent told me that her 3rd grader had homework and classwork that was literally sample questions form the PSSA test.

It would be helpful (and a major point of this blog) if parents would blog with specific examples of "teaching to the test" that was going on in the PPS so that we can bring it to the attention of the distirct.

Questioner said...

No one admits to teaching to the test, but most say that others are doing so.

She said...

The current elementary curriculum is all about teaching to the test. There are weekly units (5 or 6 days long, depending on the school) which culminate in a test of multiple choice questions, with one written answer. These tests are made to be preparation for state tests. There are even kindergarten versions of these tests -- and in K kids have as hard a time flipping the pages and staying with the rest of the class as they do answering the questions.

There are only 10-16 questions on these tests (at least in the lower grades), so each question takes on far more importance. Then again, one lucky guess can mean the difference between looking like you know the material or don't. Many of the questions are easily misconstrued by children. That is, adults can read the question and understand what is being asked but very concrete first graders may have an entirely different reading of it.

Then again, with the 50% grading (or its equivalent new program) scores end up in a pretty narrow band. Any decent teacher could spend the same amount of time as the testing takes and give a more accurate and nuanced picture of each child's levels of achievement.

Paper and pencil multiple choice test scores also don't tell you which children agonized for an hur over the test and ended up with 90% due to some lucky guesses and which child whizzed through it in a few minutes and had a 90% because of a silly mistake. A teacher can tell you that -- a score on the page cannot.

PPSparent said...

The changes I've seen in the district are that now "fun" projects are less educational. For instance, in the past when a teacher did a unit, there could be two or three chances for hands-on learning, or projects that required the child to create a unique product, whether that was written, an art project, something told to the class, etc.

Now, if there's a spare moment, it's spent with more rigid projects -- crafts, basically. NOT that that's bad (it's better than nothing), but coloring and cutting from worksheet illustrations and making the same exact thing as every other student is not the same as learning and creating something of your own, based on a theme the class has studied.

My older children were introduced to artists and art in elementary school via a classroom teacher. They learned not only about the artist, his/her times and work, but also learned enriched vocabulary, comparison and analysis skills, etc. They wrote about the artists, they drew in the style of the artist, they thought and created. They noticed art when they were out of school. They learned.

There's no time for an ongoing program like that now. At best, students might hear about one artist and fill in a worksheet, if their teacher is motivated enough to rearrange things to fit it in.

So many teachers now have given up on their special projects that used to be what motivated children to enjoy learning. No one's any happier and no one's learning more due to this loss. There are still pockets of this going on out there, but it's so much harder to keep it going under all the "data" demands.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be difficult for the Pittsburgh Promise to make all of this palatable.