Test Scores and Authentic Teaching

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Pashtun, Jul 3, 2014.

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Authentic Teaching and Standardized Tests

  1. Authentic teaching, critical thinking, creativity...etc lead to better Standardized test scores

    14 vote(s)
    60.9%
  2. Teaching to the test is really the only way to score high on Standardized tests

    9 vote(s)
    39.1%
  1. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Jul 3, 2014

    I see this stance all the time on these forums.

    Teachers, classrooms, and/or schools that score high on standardized tests are assumed "much" of the time to be teaching to the test, that they are sacrificing creativity, authenticity, critical thinking skills..etc for test taking skills.

    Why is it that so many teachers think these do not go hand in hand?

    I guess my belief has always been that teaching students to think critically, be creative...etc all lead to higher performance on standardized tests.
     
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  3. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Jul 3, 2014

    The two aren't mutually exclusive.

    I'm in a high performing district. We don't teach to the test...we teach standards to the students. We teach them to take risks, and to think critically and creatively.

    I do believe that the highest predictor of student success, however, is the quality and professional development of the TEACHER. One can teach from a packaged program, test prep materials or today-is-Thursday-so-teach-this scripts and get good results. Or one can teach thoughtfully and in a dedicated-to-each-kid and conscientious way to facilitate real understanding through meaning making, bringing out critical and creative thinking AND teaching the required content standards in ways that allow students to be successful on assessments.
     
  4. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    Though limited in scope I did my master's research project on this very question. I studied only two teachers and 4 classes of kids but those in the class that rarely used the textbook and learned via simulation and inquiry outperformed the more traditional class significantly.

    I don't mean to say the study was conclusive in any way since the focus was more on designing the curriculum and showing it to be a valid method but it at least did that.

    Even that said I will readily admit that the quickest way to improve scores is to teach to the test.
     
  5. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    I actually really struggle with this personally. I teach GT students and believe that many of our assessments during the school year should be open-ended, they show application through projects, through authentic writing. I am required by our admin team to "train" them as well to take standardized tests-the format is completely different to what they are used to doing on a daily basis. So every week in addition to the assessments I plan myself, I also have to administer and review with them multiple choice assessments made in the format they will see in testing.

    I have actually been criticized for not preparing them enough for the standardized tests. The classes where everything is taught in a multiple choice format, where they don't spend time doing things like projects, where they practice reading and highlighting passage after passage instead of using actual literature--they do actually score better. I personally refuse to teach to the test, but then I have to justify my lower scores when they come back. And now especially because their scores are such a big part of my evaluation, it's really hard.
     
  6. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    I can't really answer this poll. My students can usually only perform well on tests when they are taught the precise skills needed. I could try to reinforce critical, abstract thinking skills until I'm blue in the face. They need to know that if you do A and then B, you'll get C. But that's the special ed perspective. Gen ed might be very different. However, I do know that my school spends weeks on test prep, "teach to the test" type activities, for gen ed students prior to state testing and we usually do quite well.
     
  7. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Jul 3, 2014

    The tests are based on the standards. The curriculum is also based on the standards, probably even more strictly now that Common Core is in play for most states. As czacza previously stated, we teach to the standards, which are also the basis of the tests. That being said, we ARE heavily encouraged to base our assessments on the style of the upcoming PARCC exams. It isn't exactly teaching to the test, but to the style of it and the content. Pretty close, but not quite teaching to the test.
     
  8. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Jul 3, 2014

    Seems like PAARC and other CCSS tests will be less multiple choice types of format and more application, critical thinking kinds of questions. So while kids who are taking standardized tests for the first time need some instruction on 'how to take a standardized test' (and I'd argue that test taking skills are life skills...think of the different exams, assessments and screenings educators and other professionals take!), teaching and applying critical thinking to the content standards will result in students who are ready for THE TEST.
     
  9. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Basing your assessments and how students are learning day to day are not the same, imo.

    I believe you have always had to connect critical thinking, socratic dialogues, classroom discussions, scientific process, analyzing, authentic critical thinking based learning to testing format(in the past this meant multiple choice).EDIT: in the same way you have to connect monitorng, clarifying, summarizing, predicting, to all facets of life, sports, jobs, chores...etc.

    Connecting the two is very quick.

    However, imo, teaching to the test is not the same as connecting critical thinking to a test format.
     
  10. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    My stance has been that this was true with multiple choice standardized tests.

    "teaching and applying critical thinking to the content standards will result in students who are ready for THE TEST."
     
  11. teacherbatman

    teacherbatman Companion

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    Jul 3, 2014

    I don't agree with either poll option as a general statement.

    You can teach critical thinking and creativity, and have low test scores. You can also teach critical thinking and creativity, and have high test scores.

    Of course, teaching to the test is not the "ONLY" way to raise standardized test scores. Obviously, you can teach some things without even referring to the tests, and consequently, students will do better on some tests. "Teaching to the test" is simply a natural thing that happens when peoples' jobs are on the line and students are immensely pressured... because teaching to the test is ONE WAY to boost scores.

    None of this means the tests themselves are valuable or are an absolute indicator of any kind of teaching or student intelligence.
     
  12. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    There are a lot of states who have already opted out of using the CC tests and others still considering that because of the projected costs-districts just can't afford the technology to administer it properly. It will be interesting to see what everyone decides to use instead.

    I think my kids would do better if the questions involved more critical thinking like they are used to. They tend to overthink even the easy questions.
     
  13. mathteachertobe

    mathteachertobe Cohort

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    Jul 3, 2014

    KinderCowgirl,

    I'm curious as to what the testing requirements are for your kindergarteners? Do they come from the state or your district?
     
  14. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    District-they take the Stanford testing.
     
  15. Linzi

    Linzi Rookie

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    I have a question: What does it mean when people say "teach to the test"?

    Last year was my first year, and I taught exactly what was outlined in the standards we have here (NC Essential standards for science). I added some things, mainly process skills, like writing a lab notebook entry, designing some basic experiments, and reinforcing/teaching some underdeveloped algebra skills, but I wouldn't say I did a lot of my own additions.

    Does that phrase "teaching to the test" just mean not going further in depth than what the standards say?
     
  16. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Jul 3, 2014

    "Teaching to the test" at its extreme means teaching that hews as closely as possible not merely to standards and content and skills but to the format, phrasing and content of specific test questions. I confess to having taught to a particular question, when I was teaching a certain outdated teacher test: the "correct" answer did not jibe with the facts, so I taught both that answer and the reasons it fails. For the most part, however, I did and do as Linzi does: teach the standards and the process skills and reinforce skills that are underdeveloped or rusty. THAT is not teaching to the test, in my view.
     
  17. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    Teaching to the test will show more growth on a one-year basis, and would be more likely to kick a kid into the pass proficient range if they're on the bubble. Critical thinking skills, etc., have a longer-term benefit, but not as much short-term benefit. If you have the Sword of Damocles over your head because of test scores though, you aren't going to be as concerned with what students do in future years.
     
  18. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    Jul 3, 2014

    Starting next year, I will be teaching to the test. Period.

    This year, my district created their first ever World History final exam that all teachers are supposed to give. The exam has 100 multiple choice questions, 4 BCRS and 1 ECR. Few of the questions overlap; instead of 10 of the 100 questions being on the Enlightenment; 1 or 2 are on the Enlightenment, 1 or 2 are on the Protestant Reformation; 1 or 2 are on the Catholic Reformation, etc. The test itself is ridiculous, especially because the testing period is only 90 minutes. I did not give this exam to my kids since this was our SLO field test year and Admin allowed me to give my own exam.

    World History at my school is a semester course (90 days at the very most). I have already made it QUITE clear that I plan on going through the test questions, organizing them in chronological or thematic order, and then teaching one question per day. Students' test scores will be linked to my SLO score and my paycheck starting next yeat. I can't take any chances. Sorry.

    In the words of my Government-teaching colleague (where the final is only 75 multiple choice questions), "the district is trying to set us up for failure - kids and staff."
     
  19. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    For some people I think it means only teaching what will be on the test. For example, we don't test science or social studies until 5th Grade, so many lower grades are told not to waste time on those subjects-even though it's in our curriculum, the focus is only on what will be tested. Our testing is in a multiple choice format so we are told students do not need to practice actually writing as much. Some admins would rather see you drill kids with multiple choice questions reviewing punctuation skills than seeing them write every day actually applying those skills.

    Many of our upper grades don't even use actual novels anymore-they teach reading comprehension daily using passages like they will see on the test-it's just drill, drill, drill on using strategies until it becomes automatic for them. I tutored a student once who actually circled the title and wrote "title" next to it. When I asked why he did that he said that's what he was supposed to do. Actually he was supposed to make a prediction based on the title, but it got to the point where he was just going through the motions and not really thinking at all about what he was doing-obviously he knew it was the title.
     
  20. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    Jul 3, 2014

    This is one reason I left teaching early. Now that our paychecks and jobs will be tied to test scores, this is what many teachers will feel they have to resort to.
     
  21. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    They may feel they have to but they'd be wrong. Kids aren't going to memorize 100 questions and answers over a semester long period. If they aren't interacting with the material in some meaningful way there's tons of research to show it isn't going to stick.
     
  22. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I hardly mention the test to my kids. The skills they learn will help them on the test. My tests are much harder than the OGTs. We do two prep sessions for each subject two weeks before they take them.

    With PARCC, I'm reshaping my assessments to more closely mimic those tests. I believe my kids will struggle with them at first so I will need to help them analyze the questions.
     
  23. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    Man, oh man... I just spent the last 2 weeks grading those PARCC writing exams.... I have to tell you, it wasn't pretty.
     
  24. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    My coworkers and I have been learning a HARD lesson the last couple of years. The standards we've been given to teach aren't matching the standardized tests the kids are being given. We are given specific language that the students are supposed to know, but IMO the vocabulary on the tests is MUCH higher level. This year, I'm def not teaching to the test, but I am going to have to start incorporating college-level vocabulary into their learning in order for them to be successful. It's frustrating because my kids can tell you all about the Cold War. They get the concept, the get the big picture. But they're tested on nitpicky details with very complicated questions.
     
  25. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    Yeah I'm fully prepared for our scores to suck. Thankfully my P and Super are awesome people and realize and accept this. Our SLOs/value added cannot me used to make personnel decisions for 2-3 years. They will obviously still go into our evaluations.
     
  26. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    I think raising test scores can be done through either method. However, if someone has incredible pressure and feels test scores need to be improved, teaching to the test is a more sure way.

    I do see that when pressure is increased to get high test scores by the administration more teachers appear to teach to the test.

    Let me add, that it greatly matters what the standardized test is like. The more predictable the standardized test is, the more teaching to the test I have seen.
     
  27. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    I agree with this. The "bubble" kids can be taught to "game" the test using teach to the test strategies. We did this when I taught 3rd and every "bubble" kid in the grade level passed, with the exception of one who missed it by one point. I'm quite sure they didn't learn enough "real" skills to get them to a higher proficiency level in 4th grade, but just like you said when our careers depended on the scores our focus was obviously to get them to pass the 3rd grade test. My higher kids seemed to naturally use good test taking strategies, so they didn't need a lot of direct instruction on it. My lower students couldn't begin to read the material in the first place, so no amount of teaching to the test was going to help them any. I rarely even mentioned the test in their guided group and focused on basic phonics and decoding skills.

    We also were required by admin to do a lot of things a specific way because of the test. For example, a large part of our 3rd grade reading test is vocabulary. They give the kids a word in a sentence and then they have to pick the definition. As a result of this set up, admin insisted that we drill, drill, drill using context clues for new vocabulary words. We were NOT supposed to teach weekly vocabulary words directly, because they wanted students to practice using context like they would on the test. We had over 90% ELL students. Of course they needed direct vocabulary practice! Not to mention that their best chance of getting vocabulary questions right is to actually just know what the word means in the first place. I had to "sneak" in as much vocabulary instruction as I could, which was difficult because admin did walkthroughs every single day making sure we were teaching the way they wanted us to.
     
  28. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    /bump for more people voting.
     
  29. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    I didn't vote because neither option really fits my opinion or experience.
     
  30. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Yeah, this will be true of basically any poll.

    To me it is more a philosophy. I obviously believe that teaching critical thinking, creativity, problem solving,socratic dialogues,..etc will lead to better results on any kind of test I have seen in my career in elementary school. Of course, there has to be some connection between deep thinking and a test format.

    However, I do understand they are not perfect choices.
     
  31. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    The thing is that there's such a big difference between groups of kids. If you take a kid who's on the border between passing and failing, then getting him to pass THIS year's test would best be done through test prep. Getting him to be a better student, and getting him to CONTINUE showing growth, year after year, would be through critical thinking skills, but if I'm a teacher who's head is on the chopping block over this year's test scores, guess which one I'll spend more time on?

    Meanwhile, a gifted student probably won't benefit at all from "test prep." From my experience, test prep like this is more likely to make kids do worse, if anything. Test prep probably wouldn't really do much to help a kid who is miles away from being able to pass, either.
     
  32. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    See I disagree, not saying your wrong, just different philosophies and beliefs.

    I believe a student who is "on the bubble" would show MORE growth by being pushed to think critically, creatively, Socratic dialogues, tons of writing...etc.

    If we are talking 2 weeks, then yes I would agree with you. 10 months I disagree. This is exactly why in another conversation I have had with poster I am opposed to more frequent, smaller, standardized tests throughout the year...for the very reasons you say.

    I teach to the end of the year, give me my 8-10 months and I believe choice 1 is the most effective.
     
  33. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    I believe that student would show more growth and be more prepared for future grades... but I DON'T think they'd score better on this year's standardized test than if they were exposed to constant test language, were taught to "slash the trash," had their reading largely limited to the type of reading they'd see on the test, etc. I'm under the opinion that showing growth and learning, and getting a certain score on standardized tests... really aren't the same thing.
     
  34. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    For what it's worth, this year is the second year where the reading ability of my students, and my students' SOL reading scores were very loosely correlated... while the reading ability of my students and their SOL math scores were almost perfectly correlated. I always laugh when my principal commends me for my test scores. Granted, I'd like to think that I do good things in my classroom, but their scores on a standardized test is hardly proof of it. I mean... I have a girl in my room that "only" scored pass proficient on the reading test... so obviously she's not that strong (comparatively speaking) as a reader, right? Well... no... she's at an 8th grade reading level and probably has a better vocabulary than an average middle schooler. She's just lazy on tests with such easy stuff and only spent about ten minutes on the test, total.
     
  35. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    So grade3 you can vote on this poll. Clearly you are choice 2.
     
  36. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    This to me is a HUGE problem, we are going to disagree here as well. IMO, this in no way invalidates a test.
     
  37. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    Why? She'd have probably aced the test if it were a 6th grade reading test. Instead, she got 36/40, and all the mistakes she'd make are the type of questions you'd expect somebody to get wrong if they only spent about a minute on each reading passage. One of my perfect scores was from a student who is "only" on grade level, but did all the typical good test taker things.

    Heck, of my three kids that are at a DRA 80+, none of them ended up with a perfect score... on the reading test. All three aced the math test, along with the three students that are at a 6th grade reading level.

    Also, no, I'm NOT "clearly choice 2." I do little-to-no test prep with my kids, because I don't have any bubble kids. If I kept my group strictly to test prep, I'd be holding them back, since the tests are generally far beneath them. If all my kids WERE bubble kids though, and if I was told to have them all pass or get fired... well...
     
  38. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I agree with another opinion I saw on here. Authentic teaching, critical thinking, etc. will produce far more retention and meaningful learning in the long run.

    However I think teaching to the test is likely to produce fast results that will probably be better than the ones gotten through authentic teaching, though they will be forgotten as soon as they leave the class.

    I'm reading a book about this right now actually, that shows the research about retention through cramming for tests, and retention from paced practice over time. Students who cram for tests actually do better but they forget it almost entirely in a very short amount of time who those who practiced the other way remembered way more for way longer.
     

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