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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Really? Test Prep for Homework!

By Peter DeWitt — March 17, 2013 4 min read
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Don’t get caught up in the insanity by making young children go home and practice test prep. It borders on educational malpractice.

Educators can sometimes be their own worst enemies. For eleven months out of the year they scream, complain, discuss and debate the idea that high stakes testing has gotten out of control. Most educators believe high stakes tests are not age-appropriate for the students who are forced to take them and are having a critical impact on the way teachers educate students.

Then...a month or so before students have to take the tests schools begin sending the message that students must take them seriously. When students are being tested schools send home notes about how important it is to get rest, not make appointments, and not over-schedule because being fresh for the test should be the top priority. How do schools expect students to buy into that line of thinking when they have spent the better part of a year not buying into it themselves?

Students hear the complaints. They overhear the conversations about the negative side of high stakes testing. They know how teachers and principals feel about these tests. They hear their parents talking about it at home, especially now that state tests are tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

Making the Situation Worse
There are times when even the worst situations can teach us valuable lessons. Getting a lot of rest, not overbooking, and eating right is good for any competition. Those things are also good to do the night before any big exam. Even though we may not agree with high stakes testing, we also know that they are a part of life. The reality is that students will have to take tests during their formal education.

Being fresh when you have to do something important is a life skill. We wouldn’t go out on the town until 2 a.m. the night before a big presentation. At a young age, students have to learn that some days are more “important” than others.

However, in an effort to increase test scores, there are educators who are trying to find a variety of approaches. Some are not doing a great deal of test prep because they want to focus on inquiry-based practices and have the desire to minimize the impact that testing has on instruction. They are fostering creativity in the classroom.

Other teachers are giving multiple practice tests to students, which is unfortunate because it sends a bad message to students and parents. This year, more than any other, parents and students believe that high stakes testing is more about grading the teacher than the students. When copies of the test prep comes home, parents look at it as another way for a teacher or principal to raise their grade.

It’s kind of true. As much as state education departments may say that the test is an opportunity for students to show what they know; we know that secretly it’s a way to see what the teachers have been doing. Its high stakes for students, teachers and principals, which seems like it might throw the validity of the tests out the window. Can students really do their best with all of that angst?

Test Prep for Homework?
Recently, a friend contacted me to say that her third grade daughter came home with a letter stating that test prep would be given for homework. To be exact, it was two practice tests for homework, which sounds like a lot for one night. However, this won’t be for one night. The assignment is for the child’s spring vacation. For those of you with common sense, let me repeat that a student will be given given test prep for homework and it will have to be completed over spring break.

Perhaps the student’s parents were supposed to time her?
Perhaps she takes one part per day?
No playing outside until you do all of your test prep!!!

In New York State, high stakes testing begins the second week of April and for those insecure teachers who want to make sure their students are prepared, it may seem like a good idea to give test prep for homework. Maybe, she was supposed to just get a feel for what the tests look like, but no matter what the reason, it’s absurd. It also sends a very negative message to parents that the school only cares about testing. It’s also a very arrogant move to assign it over a family break.

Have some educators lost all common sense? What are the benefits to sending test prep home for homework, regardless of whether it is over a vacation or one night during the week? If most of us believe the test is flawed or creates too much anxiety, wouldn’t it create more anxiety for teachers to send it home for homework as well?

Come on people! Just because policymakers think that high stakes testing is worthwhile doesn’t mean that we have to make ourselves look bad by assigning it as homework. Homework is bad enough when it’s assigned every night and is boring. It’s mind-numbingly boring to send test prep for homework!

In the End
This clearly doesn’t just go for teachers. Principals are often directly or indirectly behind this type of homework assignment. Those who are directly involved make teachers assign it to students because they feel it may give the student the extra edge they need. It doesn’t.

Other principals are indirectly behind this type of homework. Teachers send it home because they feel intense pressure from their principals that the students have to perform well on the test. Those teachers practice during the day and send it home at night because they’re scared.

Educators will never get passed the angst of high stakes testing but they can minimize the damage. They can help put high stakes testing in its place by focusing on other learning opportunities that are much more authentic and engaging. Providing project-based learning or inquiry-based learning opportunities are much more worth the time of students.

Don’t get caught up in the insanity by making young children go home and practice test prep. It borders on educational malpractice.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.