How do you avoid becoming a "teach the test" teacher?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by lindsaylee3736, Oct 31, 2011.

  1. lindsaylee3736

    lindsaylee3736 New Member

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    Oct 31, 2011

    I saw this question on a blog and thought it would be interesting to hear everyone's thoughts. With so much pressure and emphasis on testing, sometimes it's hard to avoid NOT teaching to the test.
     
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  3. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Define "teaching to the test".

    There is some teaching to the test that should be done because the test tests the standards which you should be teaching.

    Do you mean how do you avoid teaching by having children take multiple versions of the test to get them to memorize the material?

    I'd be interested in how you define "teaching to the test".
     
  4. lindsaylee3736

    lindsaylee3736 New Member

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    I think it means how do you avoid only focusing on teaching the material on standardized tests.
     
  5. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    If your state standards are anything like ours, it is near impossible because they are so voluminous. But just because you don't have time to teach other things doesn't mean that the standards must be taught superficially. Any student that can think critically about the material in the standards typically has enough of the basic knowledge to have no problem with the state tests (unless the student is just a really poor multiple choice test taker - which is a very small number of students).

    What other topics do you want to teach that you feel are outside of your standards?
     
  6. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I suppose I teach to the test. Actually, I see it as my responsibility. The state provides the standards, I teach that information, and I make sure students can demonstrate their understanding on the year-end tests (which will involve preparing them for the assessment formats and such). That is the educational system of which I am a part.
     
  7. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Like A2Z said, the way our standards are worded it would be impossible to cover every possible thing that could be on the test. So in that sense, I try to teach to it because I make sure I can justify what I'm doing every day in my room based on the standards.

    What I don't do, and what I think is highly ineffective, is constantly assess my students in a way that exactly mirrors the test. I try to use more authentic assessments that measure growth more completely, and I don't only assign reading and writing that is formatted like the TAKS test. I also don't think we should constantly "benchmark" our students. It takes too much time away from instruction and the data is often unreliable because the district tests are poorly written. So in that regard, I don't teach to the test.
     
  8. Shanoo

    Shanoo Habitué

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    This is the problem I am dealing with right now. We have standardized math tests every 3 years here. I am teaching a grade that tests.

    The problem that I am running into is that our curriculum outcomes will state something along the lines of

    - student will be able to add fractions symbolically, pictorially and concretely

    Well, that's fine. The problem is that I've found that my students HATE using manipulatives. They would rather not. And, that's fine with me. I can teach them to effectively add fractions without manipulatives. However, my fear is that, on the test, they are given a question where they are required to do a problem using one of those methods. IMO, it shouldn't matter HOW the student arrives at the answer as long as they have a reliable method that they are comfortable with.
     
  9. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I agree. Unfortunately, we are to model most of our summative assessments after the state test. Not all, but it's stressed. We really have to teach how to tackle open response items and such. Practice tests and such are also done, which I've proven as being an inaccurate prediction as to how students will actually perform.

    Of course, in the same breath we are told to give authentic, varied assessments. I just try to achieve the best balance possible.
     
  10. MLB711

    MLB711 Comrade

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    Honestly, it's impossible for me to teach to anything but exactly what will be on the test. I have tried adding extra information to give historical context, but my history standards are SO specific that most of the students won't be able to understand and process the questions if they haven't seen them before. For example, on my World History II test (10th grade), the students will see the question, "What did the writings of Martin Luther begin?" Now, the answer the state chose is "the Protestant Movement," not Lutheranism, Protestantism, or the Protestant Reformation (the latter of which makes the most sense...). If my students have never seen the phrase Protestant Movement before, they're probably going to rule it out as a choice, so I have to teach that Luther started the Protestant Movement.
     
  11. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Unfortunately I haven't been able to avoid it. I struggle with this very much. I am a very open-ended, project-based teacher in philosophy and am expected to do quite the opposite in preparing them for testing.

    It doesn't help that the test used for us isn't a criterion based test so it's not just a matter of teaching our own standards. Our kids have never had experience with multiple choice bubbles before we take it, so we are "required" to have all their tests in that format-I hate it. Most of our campus also emphasizes reading and math. Now that they've added testing science it's taught more-but poor Social Studies.
     
  12. WhoDatTeacher

    WhoDatTeacher Rookie

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    Oct 31, 2011

    "Unpack" the standards you are given in order to create interactive, fun, and interesting lessons that students will love while utilizing a variety of teaching and assessment methods.
     
  13. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Oct 31, 2011

    I'm probably in the minority here, but I sometimes think "teaching to the test" has become, unfairly, a four letter word. If teaching the standards is now teaching to the test, I'm guilty. Maybe our standards are just that good, but I really can't think of anything else that I would teach to any of my students. I get them for three years, and by the time they leave, I am confident they are ready for algebra, and can pass a test.

    Personally, I think standards are good for education-in a sense. The teacher before me really liked social studies, so that was all he taught, every day, all day. And not just social studies, but biblical history-that is all. Oh, and he really liked Superman, so he talked about that a lot too. Moses and Superman. I know this because I subbed there for him, and the kids were working on projects about Moses, and they literally got bonus points for mentioning Superman. This was before standards.

    I kind of like the idea that I will know exactly what my daughters will be taught every year. Standards do this. And in this respect, I expect my kids' teachers to "teach to the test".
     
  14. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    My students struggle sometimes with that sort of thing, but we work on it all year to break them of the habit of looking for the exact same wording their text uses. Shouldn't a kid be able to recognize that if I say "Protestantism" or "Protestant reformation", that a test item that states "protestant movement" means the same thing? Especially since, I would think the test doesn't have some other answer choice in there with the word "protestant" in it? I work with my kids to understand major concepts and events, but intentionally work to ensure my tests aren't worded the same way verbatim as their text. I want them knowing ideas, concepts, events, and themes... not memorizing terms word-for-word.

    I'll admit, it's a struggle, especially for Freshman who are used to being spoon-fed information. But we eventually get there. Of course, we work on test taking skills too.
     
  15. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I will now give my definition of "teach to the test".

    The instruction is limited to basic memorization of items that will be on the test with no application or critical thinking skills built in. The assessments model that which will be on the state assessment. Students are given practice tests over and over AND students are given memorization type remediation once again given only the basics to learn.

    Now, to clarify, our state assessments are minimum compentancy meaning that a pass is about equivalent to a what a D would be without all of the goodboy/goodgirl grades built in.
     
  16. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    This is basically what I was going to say. I've definitely done field experiences at schools that "taught to the test." I was in a 3rd grade reading class for a semester where the teacher got out a previously released 3rd grade state test item every single day and that's what they did for reading class. They would read the story and practice answering the sample test questions. They never once read a real book- only practice test selections. They never once did a hands on or creative activity- all they did every day was test practice. By the way, the passing rate in this class was 6% on the state test. I could never work at a school full time that asked me to teach that way. I never do test practice with my students- I am a really firm believer that test practice is not an intervention. Other sped teachers in the district pull kids out and start doing test practice every day, starting in 1st and 2nd grade (our kids aren't tested until 3rd for state test). IMO, I am there to teach the kids how to read, not to pass a test at all costs.
     
  17. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Based on your definition, I don't think it's possible for me to "teach to the test". Our standards are simply not designed to be mastered through memorization.
     
  18. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Our standards taught properly could not be considered teaching to the test, but many teachers in our district still use that terminology as a reason to discount and put down the necessity of having the standardized testing for minimum compentency. Some of these teachers would rather have the students glueing cotton balls on the behinds of bunnies for their animal units instead of studying and comparing the information required by the standard.
     
  19. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    I've been giving this subject a lot of thought as I read the other responses. I've also discussed it with other teachers I work with to get their perspectives.

    After reading all the posts and doing some careful reflection of my own, I agree with kcjo13 that having established standards for each subject is good. That is the only way to ensure (or at least attempt to ensure) that all students learn the core fundamentals and necessary applications of each subject. So it IS a good thing to have standards for which all classes in all schools should strive.

    The only problem I see is that there are sometimes too many standards for some grades and classes. Naturally, my primary focus is on math.

    Last year, I covered the material needed for end of year testing, but began to worry around March that I might be moving too slowly, because I had a hard time moving on to the next topic when I had students that were still struggling with the current topic.

    When I discussed this with my oldest son (who was in 8th grade), he laughed when I said I sometimes didn't feel two days was enough on a particular section. He said "I WISH we had two days on a section. We do a new section every, single day, then move on to the next section the next day."

    Teachers feel (with good reason) that they MUST move that quickly in order to present each standardized topic to the students.

    The irony is that the "No Child Left Behind" standards end up defeating their own purpose because children that cannot grasp, comprehend or process the material quickly enough inevitably DO get "left behind" as the teacher is forced to move on to the next topic so they can cover everything before the test.

    What's the solution? First and foremost, realize we only have 180 days total to teach the children each year. Some of those days the teacher isn't going to be at his/her best and other days students will be feeling bad or will be absent. So keep that in mind when determining how many standards must be met each year.

    Next, take a close look at each standard and talk to the veteran teachers to find out how much time is needed for each grade level to really grasp the concept being studied. My CT was a great teacher with over 20 years experience. When we did review work that should have been pretty basic for the 7th and 8th graders, she would say "Yes, it should be simple review for them, but I've learned through the years that 7th graders (or 8th graders) still have a difficult time with Concept Z, even though they've seen it since at least 4th grade. They still need about 3-4 days to really get the full scope of the concept again. And she was right.

    So administrators, school boards and (especially) state education agencies, need to have a realistic picture of just how much material can be covered well-enough for the students to really understand and be proficient with the concept.

    Until that happens, though, I always try to include critical thinking problems in my classwork/homework assignments. I do believe that, if I teach the concept well enough and force them to think about how to apply that concept in different situations, then the test scores will take care of themselves.

    As one of my fraternity sisters told me many years ago, it is a lot better to learn information than to memorize it. If you just memorize information, you won't remember for very long, but if you learn the information, you will never forget it.
     
  20. Peachyness

    Peachyness Virtuoso

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    I tutor several students who all attend this classic academy. They do not teach to the test as they do not take them at this school.

    The school is very progressive and the students are very bright. They begin learning Latin in kindergarten. Logic in elementary school. Rhetoric in secondary. The whole school learns the same theme. This year, the theme is The Renaissance .

    They think outside the box. They do many art projects.

    So, I think it's possible to NOT teach to "the test". It just depends on how strict your school is about it all. My last school was VERY VERY strict about teaching them to the test. We had to be on the same page, work from the same program, etc.
     
  21. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think it's important that kids are prepared for the directions they'll be facing for any test. So they should know how to handle the scantron, whether or not to skip hard questions, how to manage their time-- and in the case of the SAT, how to handle the free response questions.

    But my kids have had weeklong "math camp" in elementary school-- all math, all day long, in preparation for standardized exams.One year Brian had a 40 page test prep packet to do over a vacation. Let's just say it doesn't exactly engender confidence in the work they've done all year long if a teacher has to cram that hard, that fast, to prepare them for a test.
     
  22. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I think sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bathwater in the rush to "cover the standards". Not all standards are created equal and my opinion is often we rush an important fundamental standard that would allow other standards to be quickly taught and mastered if the fundamentals were in place.

    Look at Kindergarten. We have until 3rd grade to teach children to read and schools will zip, zip, zip through the basics and often ignore the underlying skill set necessary to read. They zip through the "procedures" of how to be a student - listening, following direction, etc so they can "cover the material". But that covering of material is a waste of time because the underlying skills needed to master it are still missing.

    I agree standards are getting too voluminous, but the assumption in some grades is that these kids will have mastered the basics. But in a panic, schools are rushing the most important skills not realizing the majority of students, once they master the basics will easily master the other skills.
    :2cents:
     
  23. SCTeachInTX

    SCTeachInTX Fanatic

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    ... I say.... Teach the standards and kids will do fine on any test. I have proven it year after year. But the bottom line is that I TEACH. I don't sit behind a desk. I don't think up cutesy art projects. I TEACH. If I do that and engage my students in authentic experiences, they should be able to figure out any test. Tests are not trying to trip kids up. Tests are there for us to see how we are doing and if our students are growing as learners. Yes, teach the genre of testing... like Alice suggested. Teach your standards ALL OF THEM and your kids will be just fine. Better than fine... they will be prepared.
     
  24. Good Doobie

    Good Doobie Rookie

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    I agree, a2z. I'm interested in that definition. I sat in a meeting with the big guys from the state and they said they want teachers to teach to the test. Well that was 10 years ago. Do they still? Idk.
    Does this have anything to do with the way many teachers are no longer teaching.
    I wish some one would find out quick. My own children are learning very little if anything at school. Their teachers are giving projects even in math and science. My own children say they are lost and all the kids are floundering - not knowing what direction to go. I talked to two of my kid's friends (bright kids) and they say they like it better when the teacher shows them how to do the problems. I guess the teachers don't even model the processes any more. Do we need to shell out a lot more tax payer money to teach teachers how to teach without teaching to the test?
    Maybe I don't get it. If I was education czar, I think I would have every teacher teach from the same text. Then evey student in the nation would take the same test. Every year I would change the test and it would not favor any particular area of the country. What is so hard about that?
     
  25. Aussiegirl

    Aussiegirl Habitué

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    :thumb::thumb::thumb: We figured out that we lose weeks of class time that is taken up with fluency testing, other testing, being guinea pigs for state tests (we never get to see how our kids did on the practice, so it is wasted time),benchmark testing, etc. It is crazy and one of the things that is contributing to my current low morale.
     

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