Teaching to the Test Ok, so without too much introduction, let me present two examples of the current problems that standardized testing create. The first is out of Illinois. It appears that they want to drop writing from the list of things upon which students are tested. They cite budgets as the reason - assessing writing is expensive because you have to pay a small army of people to grade essays. People are concerned that his will result in Illinois teachers spending less time on writing as part of their language arts curriculum. I think the people are right. My big issue with standardized testing is this: If you evaluate teachers and schools based on students' standardized test scores, then they will only teach what is on the test. Anything else will be viewed as a waste of instructional time. If you want standardized testing to work, then you must be willing to test students on every subject you wish them to learn in school. If you want second graders to have science, then you need to test them in science when they are in the second grade. If you want 7th graders to know what healthy eating habits are, then you need to put that on the test as well. If they really want to do it right, then it all has to go on the test. Personally, I'd love to know that my first graders had to pass a test on how to draw a house and cut a shape out of a piece of paper. But if you only test a grade level in two or three subjects, the don't be shocked when it ends up that those subjects are the only ones they study at school ever day. In California, second graders are tested in math and reading. Because of that, in many schools, they don't even bother to teach science and social studies in primary grades. The result is that by the time they get to the upper grades where they are tested in those subjects - science in 4th grade and social studies in 8th grade - they turn into massive cram sessions with teachers literally teaching to the test because they have no other choice. Which brings me to the next problem. Social Studies. It's a subject near and dear to my heart. I majored in history, and once dreamed of being a high school history teacher or even a college professor. That dream was crushed when I found out the current California standards in social studies virtually suck every bit of life out of what should be an exciting topic for kids to study. Basically, they divide history into geographical regions and time periods and leave it at that. 4th grade: California, 5th Grade: Colonial and revolutionary U.S., 6th grade: ancient world 7th grade: Medieval world, 8th grade: 19th century U.S., 9th or 10th grade: Modern world, 11th Grade: 20th century U.S. The big problem is that nowhere does a student get a survey course in the entire history of the United States or world civilization. In theory, if you ask a 8th grader a question about the Civil Rights Movement or the Holocaust, they might not know the answer because that topic is not part of the general curriculum in any social studies class until the 10th or 11th grade. Nor would they know anything about the Great Depression or either of the world wars. Conversely, if you asked an 11th grader a question about the Roman Empire or the American Revolution, they would likely have to remember back to 5th or 6th grade to come up with the answer. Granted the standards and the curriculum both have sidebars that require students to connect the various time periods, but nothing outside of the those time periods are studied in depth. So in spite of the fact that they might read Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade English, it's unlikely that their history teacher is going to spend a lot of time on an in depth study of the Holocaust because that's just not in the standards and not on the test. But far worse than the problem with the standards is the way they are now tested. In California, students are not tested in social studies until the 8th grade. However, the 8th grade test covers topics from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. That means that 8th graders will either have to remember back to 6th grade to answer more than half of the questions or their 8th grade history teacher will need to spend a lot of time reviewing things that are not part of the curriculum he or she is expected to be teaching when the principal walks in the room. One of my students from my initial year of teaching first grade eventually grew into a very perceptive, 8th grader and ended up a teachers assistant in my classroom. (watching the kids grow up like that is one of the main reason I stay in this job). After they had all taken the STAR test, I asked him what the social studies portion was like. His answer was funny. He said "You know, it was sort of unfair. I don't read the Bible, but here were all these questions about Moses and the Egyptians on it!" Obviously, his teachers were not "teaching to the test."