Monday, May 5, 2008

Teaching to a test ...

... is, in my opinion, absolutely the WORST kind of 'teaching'. You're not teaching, you're taking the lazy man's way out!

My latest rant is based on a talk radio show that was airing as I was returning home from taking two of my personal customers to Intercontinental Airport this morning.

The host was referring to the TAKS, the ACT, the BS (I made up the last one, OK?), and -- at least the inferences I was getting -- he seemed to think, "How else can we measure students' progress or teacher competency/efficiency?"

Don't get me wrong here. There are instances when one must 'teach to a test' ... spelling competitions/bees, for example ... important dates in history, etc. Those things must be memorized.

There was a wonderful movie made some years ago -- based on a true story, I believe -- starring James Edward (?) Olmos, who portrayed a math teacher in (I think!) the Los Angeles area.

He did not try and teach to a test. Instead, he tried to instill in his students the major underlying concepts involved. The students 'got it'.

Test time came around. They scored so high that the results were thrown out, the students were accused of cheating, and another test was administered -- this one closely monitored, of course. As I recall, they scored even higher the second time! They understood and could extrapolate!!

He not only had taught them the underlying concepts, he had showed them how to think and apply same. Now, THAT is teaching!

I was reminded, on my drive back, of a M*A*S*H episode -- I love that series! -- , the one where Klinger, in his efforts to bone up on an upcoming test for a possible promotion, somehow gets hold of the answers and then proceeds to write them down on various parts of his body. Did you ever see that one?

Well, anyway, 'contortionist extraordinaire' becomes a little discombobulated in trying to locate the various answers. Not only that, but BJ has mixed up the order of the questions. Oh, no!!!

Mr. McGonigle, the principal of the school where I taught for several years, once told me, "Helen, I don't care if you have the children stand on their heads all day long! I've been observing you for some time now, have received many reports from parents, have listened to the second grade teachers' comments on the preparation their students had received (I was teaching first grade at the time), and have seen, first-hand, how much your students like to come to school and want to learn."

[Now, I must tell you the truth here. Mr. McGonigle NEVER came into my classroom to 'observe' -- at least, not that I was aware. At the same time, his office was right next door to my classroom.]

I LOVE teaching!! No two ifs/ands/buts/sixes about it ... there is, again in my own opinion now, nothing to equal it! See a couple of my earlier posts to get a little more background ... here ... and here.

There you have it, my 'rant' for the day. I'll probably have many more down the road, as teaching is my true love.

[I feel a great need to edit/add to this post, and it is this. I am not perfect, was not ever perfect, and for certain will not ever be perfect!! These are my 'imperfect' personal views, only, as of 5/5/08.]


Nancy said...

You referenced Stand and Deliver, one of my favorite movies of all time. With Edward James Olmos, my pretend boyfriend! The book, too, is excellent. The movie took a few liberties to streamline the plot, so you can get a more detailed and factual telling of the story from the book. But overall, it happened as you described it in a nutshell.

The emphasis on standardized testing is the second main reason I've never wanted to teach in a public school. (The main one being behavior management.) From what I hear from teachers these days (post NCLB), teaching to the test is all they can do.

I think standardized testing can reveal some things about some people - like how well you memorize and how good a test-taker you are. But I'm sure they fail to reveal some very important things about people, too. Like depth of understanding and ability to think creatively, for instance.

I was a very good test taker, and for awhile, I was proud of that fact. Until I started to realize that I'd scored higher on my SAT/GRE than people I knew were smarter and more talented than me. And scored lower than some people whose minds I didn't respect at all.

In the weeks leading up to the CRCT here, parents and teachers were talking to me about the stress the kids were under. They actually saw some kids do things like lose weight, start having headaches or stomachaches, start acting out, or become visibly depressed because of all the pressure on them to meet standards. In 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade meeting standards is required for promotion. So there were kids doing well enough in their classes but faced with the prospect of repeating a whole year of school because of one test. And the pressure was making them sick.

It's crazy! Children shouldn't have to go through that, not at such a young age. Not at a time when they should be given every opportunity to enjoy learning. It's just so sad. I don't want to see my son go through it. I can just hope he'll be a good test-taker like me. But still, a test-focused curriculum is boring and mind-numbing.

You were lucky to have a principal who was able to see and appreciate your gifts as a teacher and also to have gotten out (I'm guessing?) before NCLB made things so much worse. It sounds like you were able to really enjoy teaching, and that's wonderful! I do, too, but only because with adults I don't have to worry about standardized tests (or behavior management) at all.

This may be the longest comment I've ever posted!

Tammy said...

I agree with all you have stated here on your blog. We've been lucky to get away from teaching to the test the last 6 years, and I'm a little nervous for Emily to set aside all of the learning she does JUST to prep for the ACT. I'd like to see her get a good score the first go-around just so she can forget about it and get back to LEARNING.

The "BS" it. lol!

And: good for Mr. McGonigle for being aware of AND acknowledging his teachers that were the best of the best. ;)

Goldenrod said...

Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful comment, Nancy, and you guessed correctly. I was able to 'get out' before all this nonsense began.

And Tammy, I'm really glad that -- as a home schoolteacher -- you've been able to avoid so much of this. I think Emily will do well, and I can only imagine how relieved you all will be when this ridiculous requirement has been met.