To the Editor:
In their May 24, 2006, Commentary “Bridging Differences,” Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch joined other distinguished educators in concluding that we should devote fewer classroom hours to test preparation. Essentially, their argument is that test preparation only develops lower-order reading skills; that reading should be directed to the development of higher-order thinking skills; and that we therefore should reduce time spent on test preparation.
Test-prep classes focus on the limited number of reading skills, usually about 10, included on state assessments. Selections in test-prep books are drawn from the same wide variety of sources as those found on state tests. Students read a passage and answer the usual critical-reading questions: Typically, they are required to provide a summary, understand a character’s motivation, or select the most important reason supporting an argument. If instruction is good and students receive adequate practice, they learn to answer these and similar questions, and thereby become good readers.
State standards do a good job of defining key reading skills. Giving a student good books and hoping for the best does not develop these skills. As P. David Pearson, the dean of education at the University of California, Berkeley, has indicated, average and weaker students need explicit comprehension instruction.
At present, such instruction is primarily provided in test-prep classes. Test-prep books spend little time on such basic reading skills as recall of factual information. They instead focus on the critical-reading skills called for in the standards, while test-prep activities develop the key reading skills needed for life. We must be sure to invest adequate time in this activity.
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Is Test Preparation Getting a Bad Rap?