Making schools better. Teaching to the test.
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Among the many points raised was what seemed to be a consensus that teaching to the test is "a bad thing".
I have recently gotten involved (its a long story) tutoring and then teaching math in a program to prepare people for the High School equivalency or GED exam.
The students in that program, as far as I can see from personal observation, are suffering from severe educational deficits and working under great handicaps.
On the one hand, students prepared at only the level required to pass the GED math test are likely to be at a very great disadvantage and would require much more remediation to get through even the minimal math requirements at a Junior College.
But on the other hand, the GED material is a necessary precondition to any further math study, so getting the students from where they are now up to a level where they could be comfortable with the exam material seems like "a good thing" and a definite step in the right direction.
Presuming that most subscribers to this group are professional educators, and hence that they know something I don't know, perhaps they could enlighten me as to the "down side" of teaching to the test in the situation I've described.
The students are quite a diverse lot. Some may have come from countries where they were able to get only a few years formal education. For most of the foreign born students, English is not their first language.
For the native English speakers, there are often all sorts of deficits from simply lack of information, lack of study skills, difficulty concentrating, perhaps cognitive deficits that would take a qualified professional to diagnose.
Naturally, "understanding and learning" is where we want to go, but:
1) How does the instructor know that the student has "understood" some concept?
2.) How does the student himself know that he or she has understood?
In both instances, ability to solve problems and to perform standard arithmetical, logical, or algebraic manipulations, and to come up with the right answer, is the "gold standard" of objective criteria.
Does the student understand to concept of "quantity"; does he or she "know" that five is bigger than two, and that five is less than fourteen ? In some sense, you cant't teach that. The student has that ability or not. What you _can_ do is give them practice sorting numbers, putting numbers on a number line,
arranging things by size and so on.
If they can do the sorting correctllu pretty much every time, then maybe they understand the underlying concept. If they can't do the sort, they for sure do not understand the concepts.
But observing from the outside, all we can tell is that the students can or can not solve problems.
From that point of view the "light" that goes on is something of a mystical proposition. We can't observe it. But we can observe the demonstration (or lack ) of the skill.
As far as teaching to the test goes, most teachers feel it is 'bad' but since more and more reviews and evaluations are based on tests results, the 'bad' is not as bad as losing your job or getting a poor evaluation. I don't know what was written in the NYTR, but teachers I know would much rather be teaching what children really need to know. This includes items that would be on the test but also things you can't test: developing creativity, music and art appreciation, how to work alone and in group settings, how to think independently, and many more. Many districts have shortened or completely eliminated music, art, PE, and/or recess times. This affects the learning of students in ways I'm not sure anyone even remotely understands.
I don't think there is an easy answer. There are many people on both sides of the fence, shaking thier fist, screaming at each other, and pulling at the fence to drag it one way or the other. Meanwhile, students are being carried along in our education system not getting what they need to succeed in life.