Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Consequence of Teaching To The Test


What if the "teaching to the test" approach taken by many public schools, to raise their test scores under the bizarre school rating formula of "No Child Left Behind", doesn't translate into improved academic performance?
According to the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the reading achievement of eighth-graders has declined since the law was passed in 2001, and the large reading gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children - "the achievement gap" - has stayed where it was. Today's eighth-graders had recorded gains in fourth grade, but these have not led to improvements in later grades - when reading scores actually count for a student's future.
The author suggests that this means, "'Teaching to the test' does not effectively teach to the test after all." That, of course, is incorrect. The whole purpose of "teaching to the test" is to improve performance on a particular test, and that unquestionably occurs. But it's like taking practice courses for the SAT or another aptitude test - you may in fact get a higher score, but that doesn't mean your aptitude is so much as 1% higher than it was prior to your taking the prep course.

The author suggests that this problem may be overcome by using better tests.
Congress and the states should note that the best tests to "teach to" are subject-matter tests based on explicit content standards for each grade. Massachusetts's results confirm that this is the best way to measure and to achieve real progress in reading.
But perhaps the real problem is that, no matter how laudable the goals of NCLB are, its excessive use of standardized testing and its excessive reliance upon those test scores to "rate" schools will perpetuate the emphasis on short-term test score improvement over long-term academic progress.

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