Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teach to the test, or to the "standards"?

Today's news juxtaposed two stories about Utah K-12 education. One coming out of our legislative session described bills that will reduce the number of standardized tests required of Utah students. Gone will be criterion-referenced tests in several grades, and the UBSCT--a test that all high school students have to pass in order to receive a diploma--looks to be on its way out as well.

The other, featured here, describes a national effort, of which Utah is a part, to describe "standards" which should be common in all English and Math classes across the US. The standards are essentially the outline of a curriculum--thing to know, things to have read, types of problems to be solved. Utah is a party to this effort.

I am not sure how to feel about these changes, especially taken together. Ten years ago I would have been happy, feeling that the effort to define a common body of knowledge would aid society, and ensure that when students got to my college classes, I could count on them having been taught certain things. And I clearly remember being angry at the rise of standardized tests with No Child Left Behind.

But today I am much less certain, for at least two reasons. One, any system of education concerned about learning has to have a set of outcomes--things a student should know and do. As bad as they are, tests like the UBSCT measured certain outcomes.

Second, and more importantly, I think schools can learn a lot more about what works if student learning is measured by a common standard. I lecture, you encourage group work. Which approach is successful for which students/ We can only know if we agree on the goal.

Put in the vernacular, though, it sounds worse. Really what I am saying is that given the option, I would prefer to teach the way I think best, but teach to the test.


1 comment:

Bryce said...

Like you, my views on things like NCLB and standardized testing have changed over the years.

Accountability seems important here. Although assessments like the CRT's and UBSCT are flawed in some ways, they do nudge educators to be responsible for what their students are learning.

I worry that the bills passed by the state legislature have more to do with cutting costs than they do with learning or anything else important. It seems a bit foolish to eliminate a broad swath of assessments without replacing those measures with something else. I'll be at the front of the line to critique standardized tests, but if it's the assessment that's the problem, let's design a new test that is worth teaching to.