Reading & Literacy

Online Tests Fuel Rise in ‘Tech-Prep’ Instruction

By Catherine Gewertz — May 18, 2015 1 min read
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Are you wasting classroom time on “tech prep” as state’s assessment moves online?

That’s the question I explore in a story EdWeek posted on our website today. I started working on the story after hearing a few secondhand grumbles from teachers that online testing was forcing them to use many hours of classroom time teaching students as young as kindergarten how to right-click, highlight, and type. These teachers viewed this kind of instruction as nothing more than test prep, moved onto a keyboard.

I made calls to teachers and principals from Alaska to Vermont, and asked them whether online testing had led them to change instruction, and the answer was universal: yes. Every educator I talked to said his or her school was putting a higher priority on ensuring that students had the computer skills—keyboarding in particular—to enable them to show what they know on state tests.

Here’s where the story took a turn, though: Nearly everyone I spoke with said that it’s a really good thing that students—even the youngest ones—are learning these skills. They argued that in a 21st century world, mastery of the computer as a tool for conveying your thoughts is a crucial skill. Some principals said they had been working on these skills with their students long before testing went online; others said the shift to computer-based testing speeded up the computer-skills work.

Either way, the response was a near-unanimous chorus of support for teaching keyboarding and other computer skills.

The one place that teachers disagreed and expressed resentment was in the area of teaching computer skills whose only application was testing. One teacher told me that she had to spend time showing her students how to create fractions for an online common-core test, since that test demanded a unique set of functions to make a fraction. That, she said, was a waste of precious classroom time.

Take a look at the story, and let me know what you think. Is teaching drag-and-drop, right-clicking and highlighting good instructional practice in the digital age? Or just another form of test prep?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.