Teaching to the Tests

As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was visit our local library. My sisters and I would all pile into the car and swarm the children’s section. We would always try and pick what we thought were the “coolest” books. The Hungry Caterpillar and Where’s Waldo were some of my personal favorites.  I specifically remember getting upset when I had to skip going to library with my sisters because I had dance class. What I really liked about reading on my own was that I could escape into the world of the book that I chose.

Although I did love reading, I really disliked reading at my elementary school. I remember three days a week we went to the computer lab and read passages on the computer screen and then answered the multiple choice questions. Often times the passages were about boring things that did not grasp my interests. I specifically remember just skimming the articles to find the answer to the three most common questions: what was the main character’s name, what was the mood of the passage, and how was the problem resolved. Skimming through the passage was a drastically different reading process then me escaping into a different world through reading a book.

I did not realize it at the time, but reading these passages and answering the questions was preparing me for the end of grading testing (EOGs). When I entered third grade, we continued to go to the computer lab, but we also began to read printed off passages and answer questions in class to continue practicing for the test. I would read the passages that interested me and I continued to skim the passages that did not interests me. I do not really remember doing much else in third grade other than practicing for these tests.

And, because we practiced so much for these tests, I was a nervous wreck before the first test. What if I bubbled in the wrong letter? What if I ran out of time? What if I failed the test?  What if? I ended up doing fine on the tests, but I still remember how anxious I was. Looking back at my elementary education, it was clear that the teachers were teaching us for the test versus teaching us to learn.

In fourth grade, I transferred to a charter school in my neighborhood and was met with a drastically different atmosphere. There the teachers taught us to learn. We would only practice for the EOGs the week before the test and we all did great. I remember reading great books like Emma and the Civil Warrior, and learning about math, reading, writing and a multitude of other things just in fourth grade.

I loved going to my charter school and wish ever child could attend a school where the focus was on learning versus standardized tests. However, after reading the article, “Why the Grammar of schooling persists,” I realized that this dream might not be an option. The article described multiple attempts to reform the current public school system in America, such as Dalton Plan. However, the majority of these reforms were not able to work because the current school system is so engrained into society. I would love for standardize tests to not be the center of education, but if they are the only way to determine if a child should advance to the next grade, then I am not sure if it is possible to reform it. I would just love for kids to love reading just like I did and still do.



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3 Responses to Teaching to the Tests

  1. leighahall says:

    I remember, as a 6th-grade teacher, being required to take a group of students to a computer lab 30 minutes every day for this kind of work. One day they did reading. The next time it was math – all for the same purposes you described here. I don’t know that it helped. A few were really into it, but most seemed bored by it.

    What I found helped more was giving them one practice passage a week for their reading exam. They took it home and answered the questions (no more than 10). The next day we went over it in class. I talked to them about how to read the test to answer the questions and how test makers try to trick you in the answer choices. This took about 15 minutes of class time once a week. I think it was more helpful than that computer lab.

    The thing is, test-taking is a genre. Kids do need to learn how to read and respond to tests. The SAT is a genre. So is the GRE or the L-SAT. And you need practice with these tests to do well on them. I do think we have to teach students how to read tests, but I think we’ve gone to far overboard with it. I think your experience shows that.


  2. jhelms94 says:

    I attended public school from kindergarten all the way until I graduated high school. In elementary school, our main goal was preparing for EOGs, and taking AR tests. Both of which we were taught to prepare for the tests, rather than learn the material. It was always a competition to see who could get the most AR points by reading (or skimming) the most books and taking tests on the computer. Or, whose class could make the most 4s on the EOGs or whose class could have the most passing students. In middle school it was the same thing, always preparing for the End of Course tests rather than really learning and grasping the information. This made for boring classes and not really enjoying what we were learning. In high school, again. Preparing for EOCs or final exams or AP tests. I regret that my schooling followed this curriculum in which the teachers were only focused on us passing tests rather than really learning the information they were teaching us.
    When I got to college, I really struggled my freshman year first semester. I attended class, attempted to study the information, and tried to read. But I learned I was ill prepared for college work. I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t know how to learn the information. So, I had to learn how to teach myself. I spent hours in the library each week trying to figure out the best way to learn. Although I have generally enjoyed school all my life, I never really had to study. I never had to learn. And now that I am in college I see the importance of learning for the sake of learning, rather than learning for tests such as EOGs. One day I want to give my children an opportunity for better education than I received. And I think public school testing curriculum is the first issue that needs to be considered.
    – Jordan


  3. haileynt1023 says:

    Having gone to a Montessori school until fourth grade, I’ve experienced a lot of this from both sides as well. During my early elementary schooling, the only “tests” we would have were spelling tests and maybe some math. Our mastery of else was evaluated in other ways. Coming to a more traditional school setting in fourth grade caught me completely off guard. Teaching for the tests is something that occurs in almost every school setting, especially in high school. AP teachers for example teach students to succeed on the AP exams and their students scores become a reflection of their teaching. I think tests can never test all the information fully or take into account testing anxiety or other issues students may have. I love that you’ve shared this dream and I think its awesome but unfortunately agree that in the context of education reforms, it would be extremely difficult to carry out. Without any testing, there would be no motivation or discipline. There has to be a balance which unfortunately may not be the same for every person.



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