Opting In: Teaching to the Test (Part 2a)

One of my readers, who is also a school administrator,  sent me a link to a useful article from Inside Higher Education, called “Teaching to the (Right) Test”.

The authors discuss the interaction between standards, testing, and curriculum design, and how assessments play a critical role:

Are there generally accepted aspects of good curriculum design? Yes. Step 1 is to decide what we want our students to learn: the learning goals. Step 2 is to devise ways to determine whether (and how well) our students are accomplishing these goals. And Step 3 is to design our curriculums and teaching strategies around gaining mastery of the learning goals.  …

Educational innovation is an iterative process. Preparing our lectures and designing our curriculums aren’t the end; they’re closer to the beginning, in fact. We must demand evidence that education — in general and in each course we offer — is “working.” When we have articulated the learning goals and designed tools for assessing their attainment, we are in a position to get that evidence.

In assessing our students, we can determine how well our curriculums and teaching strategies are helping them meet the learning goals. Importantly, we can also use the evidence from the assessments to modify and improve the efficacy of our lesson plans and teaching strategies. This evidence from assessments guides us toward the more effective methods, and helps us revise the less effective ones.

The authors also recognize that the “teaching to the test” slogan has led us down the wrong path:

Bad tests are not helpful. And teaching to bad tests is counterproductive. These facts, however, do not compel a conclusion that testing itself is bad or that teaching to tests is bad. This erroneous logic, unfortunately, has hijacked the national conversation about educational reform, and hindered innovation in higher education.   …

How did we get stuck in this flawed logic?  They believe one of the causes is that  teacher education programs (for both K-12 and higher education) don’t train teachers on why and how to use assessments to inform instruction:

A disastrous reality is that most teachers in higher education today receive little or no training in assessment. This mirrors the situation among K-12 teachers. A 2012 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality revealed that only “3 percent of teacher preparation programs adequately build teacher’s skills in the crucial area of student assessment.” We all can use help and we all can improve.

Their conclusion about testing and instruction?

When learning goals are clearly defined and reliable assessments are aligned with them, “teaching to the test” is not only good, it is exactly what we should be doing.

The whole article is worth a read.