Monday, April 23, 2007

The test

Luis is a likable kid. A big, lovable hispanic teddy bear. He likes to please and is fast with a smile. He's also very sociable, and since academic work is a struggle for him he gets distracted quite easily.

Thanks to the work of his regents prep teacher, he passed the English regents test with a 70. That's a pretty good score around here, so you'd think he has pretty decent language skills.

That is, until you saw the quiz he took for me last week. All he had to do was find an example of a simile, a metaphor, charicterization, setting, and conflict in the play we've been reading. He was allowed to use his book and his notes, but still only managed to provide an example of a simile. Folks, there's a page in the book labeled Setting! The setting is described in every scene, as is a brief characterization of each character. We talked about the similies and metaphors in class. This the sort of quiz that a student with the most basic skills should be able to pass easily, but he bombed it.

This is why teaching to the test gives a false impression of student success. The kid gets a 70 on a state test but barely shows competency in class. The prep teacher has developed a great system of teaching directly to the test and makes each task very formulaic. She just doesn't give them any language skills.

She's not the only teacher doing this. In fact, most teachers teach directly to the standardized tests, just because they want to get their tst scores up.

So what is the value of the test? Everyone--and I do mean every one--knows that most teachers teach to the test instead of teaching the critical thinking skills that students will need to be successful on any test. Anyone who denies this is lying.

As far as I'm concerned, the test is just about worthless. It doesn't measure competency, it doesn't accurately measure how students in one school compare to students in another school, and it eats up huge chunks of instructional time. We spend 10 days each school year just giving these tests, and about 1/4 of the rest of the year trying to prepare for them. That's too much time wasted.

Here's the one thing that tests do well: Tests provide an easy metric for politicians to use to support whatever agenda they have concerning education. That's it.

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