May 28, 2008

The test-prep nightmare

Over at Ed Sector's blog, former ES intern Danny Rosenthal describes how a test-prep nightmare unfolded in his Texas school. Towards the beginning of the entry, he writes,
I'm OK with test prep. When standardized tests are well-crafted, as they are in my state, teachers should use tests to shape their classroom instruction. Done thoughtfully, "teaching to the test" is a good idea. But at my school, and others in Houston, we execute test prep so poorly that it ends up hurting students more than it helps them.

The concrete description in the rest of the entry shows what happens in the school where he teaches:

... the sticker exercise told us little about our students' needs...

Mostly, teachers made worksheets with questions only loosely related to each other taken from previous TAKS tests, or, in some cases, from math textbooks that are largely unaligned with the TAKS test. Think panicked college students poring over Cliffs Notes for the wrong novel.

Sometimes, the school made all math teachers work off of the same worksheets, regardless of the fact that they taught different subjects....

Our test prep worksheets aim to review important skills. But oftentimes students have not learned these skills in the first place. And the worksheets don't fix that....

Students choose not to try mostly because they think they have no chance to succeed. That's not their fault. At Hastings, we are far too willing to exchange gimmicky test-prep and other instructional shortcuts for real teaching.

Rosenthal's vision of teaching-to-the-test done right is in line with the argument of Lauren Resnick, if TAKS were such a "good test" (many would disagree), and if that incentive pushed the type of instruction Rosenthal prefers (i.e., good instruction). But that's far too rare.

Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on May 28, 2008 9:37 PM |