Assessment Opinion

Teaching TO the Test vs. Teaching the Test

By David Ginsburg — January 16, 2011 1 min read
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It’s that time of year again: the stretch run before standardized tests. And with it comes questions about the merits of teaching to the test and test prep.

In my experience--as a teacher, instructional coach, and school leader--raising test scores has been less about targeting the test than targeting teaching. More specifically, providing teachers the curriculum and practical support they need (and deserve) to teach beyond the test rather than to it.

Teaching beyond the test is especially important when that test has been watered down, as is the case with many high-stakes tests. It’s a disservice to students, after all, to present curriculum to them that’s less advanced than what they’re ready for, just because it’s what they’ll see on the test. (I’m reminded of eighth graders who proved they were ready for Algebra, but were denied the chance to take it because it wasn’t on the test.)

On the other hand, if the scope of the test correlates to appropriate, rigorous curriculum, then why not teach to that test in terms of content? It’s one thing, though, to teach to the test and quite another to teach the test by devoting class after class to assignments and assessments that are knock-offs of standardized tests both in content and format. In other words, yet another disservice to students.

Again, let’s instead invest in proper curriculum and the support teachers need to deliver it effectively. Do this and, based on my experience, students will perform better on standardized tests than they would from a teach-the-test approach. And more important, they’ll learn rather than languish.

Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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