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by Nancy Boyles on Sep 14, 2017
What does it mean to “teach to the test,” and how is it different from “teaching to the rigor?” Many schools and districts give students round after round of reading and writing items that mimic the questions they will see on their state’s high-stakes assessment. Some educators believe practice makes perfect and, hence, more practice is better than less in increasing students’ odds for higher test scores.
This is what we mean by “teaching to the test”—repeated practice on test-like items and, unfortunately, it does not have the impact on performance we wish it might. But if we don’t provide look-alike test items for practice, what can we do to prepare our students for new standards-based assessments that now test a greater range of standards, at greater depth?
We can teach to the rigor. I define rigor as the expectations set for our students. We know that on new assessments, students will now be expected to address standards not only about what an author is saying, but how an author delivers her message. We know there will be expectations for making connections between texts, and writing to sources. Furthermore, we know students will be expected to demonstrate knowledge at multiple Depths of Knowledge.
To prepare students to meet these challenges we do need assessment items. But we need to use them differently from the way we have used them in the past—not as models for practice, but for clues to the kinds of instruction we should provide. Here is an example of an assessment item that might appear on a middle school standards-based English Language Arts test:
What does the use of dialogue show about the relationship between [Character A] and [Character B]? Select three options.
We should examine this item (and all items) for several factors:
New era “test prep” is not really test prep at all; it is great teaching.
It is recognizing the rigor of student expectations, whether in literacy or another area of the curriculum, and ensuring we have armed students with the tools to meet these challenges. Yes, we do need assessment items to achieve this goal—not so we can offer endless worksheets with questions about author’s purpose, text structure, character relationships, and more, but to provide robust learning opportunities that maximize students’ capacity to relate knowledgeably to their world.
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