Monday, March 20, 2006

'Teach to the Test'? What Test?

By Colman McCarthy from the Washington Post, Saturday, March 18, 2006

The whole opinion piece is worth the read. Some excerpts..

From the academic sidelines, where calls to Leave No Child Untested are routinely sounded by quick-fix school reformers, Jay Mathews joins in with his Feb. 20 op-ed column, "Let's Teach to the Test." In well-crafted prose, he reports that "in 23 years of visiting classrooms I have yet to see any teacher preparing kids for exams in ways that were not careful, sensible and likely to produce more learning."

On Mathews's visit to my classroom four years ago -- at School Without Walls, where I have been volunteering since 1982 -- he must not have noticed that not only was I not preparing my 28 students for tests but that I regard tests as educational insults...

Tests represent fear-based learning, the opposite of learning based on desire. Frightened and fretting with pre-test jitters, students stuff their minds with information they disgorge on exam sheets and sweat out the results. I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.

I have large amounts of evidence that tests promote the opposite: character defects. After having two of my high school classes read Mathews's column, I asked the students: If during a test the opportunity came to cheat, with no fear of being caught, would you? A majority of hands went up. A few students dismissed the question as naive. Not cheat if you could get away with it? Get real.
Desire-based learning happens when teachers deal in combustibles, when fires are lit and students burn to explore ideas that have nothing to do with what testocrats require. Quality teachers who are fire-lighters often find themselves trapped in schools that have been seduced by the Advanced Placement fad. Teachers whose students can't hack the AP final are regarded as failures.

For 25 years of testing the waters by not testing, I've been telling my students not to worry about answering questions. Be braver and bolder: Question the answers. Which answers? To start, the ones from anyone who champions classroom get-aheadism based on test scores. Throw off your chains, students. You have nothing to lose but your backpacks.

The writer, a former Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace and teaches nonviolence at three high schools and four universities.

1 comment:

The Buss said...

I'm a young, first year teacher, so this was my initial foray into the world according to NCLB. I was afraid that our entire year would be based around "teaching the test." But I was delighted to see that the teachers, at least at my school and district, are doing everything they can to enhance a curriculum and standards dulled by the criterian referenced testing done in New Mexico.
In the weeks leading to the test, I had students experiencing some anxiety, and one in particular, a younger student who joins my class for reading (we departmentalize) was crying, saying that her teacher keeps telling the class how important this test is.
I had to make sure this child understood that this test is not important, and began reminding my class of this same thing. They went in to the test not feeling stressed about it, and we even managed to have some fun.
It's sad that we have to think of ways to distract children from these distractions to their learning.
Thanks for posting the article, it's a great read.