Teaching for the Tests?

jdutton2.jpgIt’s finals time at Skyline High School, and this is the first year that I’ve ever had all six teachers give a fairly difficult exam. But hey, I should get used to it, from here on out the amount of testing only increases.

I’ve heard that the last few months of Junior Year are going to be filled with more tests than you can wrap your head around. There is the SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP Exams, State Testing, and finals…again. Don’t worry though, I promise to write throughout that hectic mess.

It seems like in just the last 10 years we’ve witnessed a huge increase in the amount of required tests and the way teachers “teach for the test.” Not to mention the fact that schools are funded based on test scores.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that teachers have to give finals, and I don’t mind taking them all that much. Plus I voluntarily took those AP classes and I’ll voluntarily take those tests. But it’s the pressure put on us to pass those STAR tests that bothers me. I’ve had several teachers, mainly in the math department, who’ve scheduled what homework we do in relation to the timing of the STAR tests. That “teaching for the test” method is unfair to both the students and teachers. The students don’t get to learn enough interesting material or do enough creative activities, and the teachers don’t get to teach what they want to teach.

I could pretty safely guess that most students are opposed to taking these tests, but what do you parents and teachers think? I’ll end this blog here because I have to go study for my AP Statistics, AP U.S. History, AP Environmental Science, and French 3 exams… Wish me luck! And good luck to all you other brave students in finals, and congratulations to those of you who are already done.


  • Javier W. Panzar

    Can we all admit that the school system is a game. School is designed for the clever to get ahead not the smart. Standardized tests are just a sham for our schools. Teachers pretend to teach and students pretend to learn. We are taught dull empty facts that have no merit and do not engage us at all; our only motivation is fear. Fear that if we don’t do well we wont make the grade,we wont get into those AP classes, we wont go to college, we won’t get a job, we won’t “succeed”. All these things are put on us.

    There is little or no attention put upon engaging the student. No interest in actually getting the student to like what he or she is learning. Whatever urge to learn and discover that is there when we are born is stomped out by these standardized tests. We are taught to play this game at such a young age that it is second nature by now, I can remember my 5th grade teacher telling us at age 10 that the STAR tests were pointless. This game creates ruthless kids who battle for every SAT point and for every scholarship. They don’t value much but getting to the next level. And they think that because of the value we put into these tests.

    Does anyone truly believe that some questions on grammar, spelling, or math can actually assess a student’s intelligence? It only assess how good we play the game. Everyday in my AP English class i see fellow students who cannot form an original thought or analyze an essay. Of but man can they define one of the common SAT words; ask them to use it though and they are lost. These kids will score high and they will get to go to CAL and they will probably do well in life but they are idiots. I am terribly sorry but most of you parents writing on this blog, your children aren’t learning anything at school but how to take a test. Not even AP classes can save them. Nothing can because we are too far gone as a society, we are too superficial, we don’t care about why all we care about is Heath Ledger’s death and what Bill O’ Riley has to say about things.

    I like Jesse am going to take these tests, AP History, AP English, AP Environmental Science.I am not going to let this fraud of an education system effect my psyche, i am not going to let these tests stress me out to the point i have a breakdown in school, because i see that and it sickens me.

    There are teachers who get through and teach things that matter, but they are few and far between. They are forced to spend there time fighting with the administration, who treat them too like children. I could probably count those teachers on one hand. But it isn’t their fault its the administration; they are ruining our future because they value these tests so much. Can you blame them even, i mean these tests give them and us funding. This is a deep problem.

    To solve it we need a change in thinking. We need to stop putting value in these tests and start putting value in our future. Stop teaching facts and start teaching wisdom, get the students interested in learning, get us to fall in love with learning. We have to do this because if we don’t then all we get is a generation of Americans who are apathetic and indolent. All we will care about is results, not methods. We will ruin the future of America with this current attitude towards learning, a change is needed.

  • jkenny

    Javier, I thought your response was wonderful. You said a lot of things that I think about every time I sit down to take a test, and I almost entirely agree with you. While your words may shock some teachers and parents, I think when we all think deeply about this subject, a lot of us truly feel the way you do. Thank you very much.

  • Isabel Rodriguez-Vega

    I really appreciated that blog Javier, because its completely true. I’ve never really thought of it that way before and you stated it perfectly.

    Its refreshing to read this because its not the same old, “only doing this for the grade”, “is this the right answer?”, bare minimum response.

    I always enjoy reading your comments. You have a way of brutally stating the truth. Almost crossing the line, but not quite.

  • jkenny

    Agreed Isabel. I am very glad to see so much student participation at last.

  • John

    Javier, Aren’t you worried you’ll be sent to the principal’s office for making such comments? That said I did enjoyed them very much.

    As a once upon a time college student I remember having an impression that advancing in school was reminiscent of advancing in the Boy Scouts – except that I think I sometimes got more out of the Boy Scouts for the energy invested. In the boy scouts (all gender orientations being equal) you earn merit badges to advance from rank to rank. In high school and college you earn credits to advance from freshman through senior rank to graduation.

    Upper education (high school & college) students more often than not elect to take classes or subjects they are not particularly interested in – otherwise we’d have more humanity (Art, History, Music, Literature, etc.) majors and fewer than a BILLION students majoring in (studying) Technology, Business, Medicine, Law, Computer Science, and other potentially lucrative subjects. In the Boy Scouts you choose to learn (earn merit badges) in subjects you’re often interested in, but then what you learn in the scouts doesn’t necessarily impact future earning potential.

    Many high school teachers have studied in college what too many others seriously wanted to study but didn’t because they don’t think there was enough (or any) money in it. Those who choose to follow their academic passion, instead of a lucrative subject with high earning potential, often end up making little while sharing much with their students – when (of course) they’re not busy “teaching to the test.”

    Regarding those state tests that you and your classmates have to take, I think the Beach Boys said it best with their lyric admonishing high school students to, “Be true to your school.” Doing poorly on the tests you’ve been taught to take could contribute to some teachers getting left behind if collective test results threaten the closure or re-organization of your school. It’s important to understand that your teachers might have some personal reasons for “teaching to the test,” so give them your full attention and compassionate support. Do your very best on the tests you’re taught to take. Try to understand the BIG picture Javier!

    Many teachers at your school probably have children to feed. You wouldn’t want them to go to bed hungry because their parent were forced to find alternative employment, and end up taking a pay cut working in (for example) the Vegetable department at a supermarket because they were no longer able to work in the Art, English, or History department of your high school.

    Do well on those taught to take tests Javier! Your teachers, and their families, are depending on you! Be true to your school.

  • http://wwwstatic.kern.org/gems/fcmat/CALIFORNIASTATELOANSTOSCHOOL.pdf Pat Hudson

    The way to change the system is to become an elected official. Most elected officials in State and Federal office are lawyers (all three Democratic Presidental candidates are lawyers). To become a lawyer you can pass a number of tests at each level. Is it a game? Perhaps. But it is the price of admission.

    How many of you would go to a Doctor who did not have to take tests as part of thier of demonstration of competence?

  • John

    Good points Pat! I went to a doctor who once benefited greatly from Affirmative Action. He gave me his diagnosis and I went to another doctor who fell out of his chair in shock. The second doctor was extremely amused, and I extremely relieved that the first doctor’s diagnosis couldn’t have been more WRONG. Of course many who benefit from Affirmative Action are competent professionals. Nevertheless, when it comes to issues of life and death it might be wise to think twice about the prospect of Affirmative Action being a factor of his/her professional status when seeking opinions (or a final word) about issues of life and death, etc.

    In short, it’s ability – not just admission to a professional school – that makes for competent professionals.

    Regarding elected officials, let us NOT forget that Don Piranha or Perata (sp?) (California’s state senate leader) was a high school History teacher. But, you’re right! Being a (sleazy or other kind of) lawyer is a great foundation for becoming an integral (cast in cement) component of the foundation of
    government(s). Students take note(s)!

    P.S. It’s unfortunate that Mother Teresa never went to law school. Don’t you think?

  • jkenny

    For those that are curious, which may be few, Skyline students (myself included) all survived finals week!

  • http://wannabteacher-learningtoteach.blogspot.com/ wannaBteacher

    For those students still in high school:

    Get a grip.

    It’s not your fault that you are nearly hysterical about taking tests and getting into the “right” college. That’s what society is telling you is important.

    In my experience, the only reason to go to the “right” college is 1) networking with wealthy white people, which mostly works if you are a wealthy white person


    2) Going to a “name” school to increase your chances of getting into the “right” PhD program. Given that the only thing to do with most PhDs is teach at the university level, and that university jobs are ever more scarce, if you plan to be a professional academic, maybe it makes sense to go to one of those schools.

    I took AP and honors courses and all the tests. (ALERT: Many universities give the same amount of credit for the AP language test as they do for the AP literature test. Language is much easier.)

    I missed a year of high school (brain surgery, but that’s another story). I chose to go to a small college no one has ever heard of because I was offered a good scholarship. For my MBA, I went to a state school (CSU East Bay). Both schools were great experiences. (Anyone looking to go into business, the CSUEB program is one of the most diverse you will find anywhere. Close to 50% of the students are international. In one of my classes, I was grouped with students from Kenya, mainland China, Slovakia and Argentina. Enough of an advertisement for my alma mater.)

    Getting back to the point, I have rarely been asked what college I went to. Also, after the second week of your freshman year in college, no one will ever ask what your SAT score was.

    Data consistently demonstrate that students who go to “name” colleges do not end up being more successful or earning more money than their peers. (See for example, Wall Street Journal and Newsweek articles in the past year.)

    So, chill out. You should probably pretend like you care about all of these things just so your parents won’t freak out, but don’t believe it has any actual relevance for your future.

    Oh, and one of my classmates from the small college that no one has ever heard of? He was a more or less average student.

    He went to Harvard Law.

  • Alice Spearman

    What you wrote speaks to the truth of “The System”. Knowing this, raise above the nonsense, stay true to yourself and beliefs, beat the system at it’s own game. My ancesters all told us as young children, to make the changes, you have to infiltrate the system. I know, I am now in a position to effect change, and even at this level, it is even harder to stay the course, but I will, hopefully make a difference for the betterment of society.

  • Kim Shipp

    Recently I was having a debate with an individual regarding the absolute truth of the Bible. I commented to this individual that the Bible was truth absolutely. He told me my thinking was narrow, I told him he was absolutely right, because “the way is narrow and few find it”.

    I just returned from the National Title One Conference in Nashville TN. I was discussing with someone this very issue of teaching to the test. We concluded that this is what teachers should be doing, because if you teach standards, students should not have any trouble passing the “standards test”-right.

    Question: What else would one teach to determine subject mastery?

    Something to think about: In a survey given to parents in America and China asking them what was the number one thing they wanted from teachers. The American parents answer was compassion.
    China’s parents answer, rigor and content.

    Some things should be looked at narrowly.

  • teacher

    Students like Jesse and Javier are the type who will learn on their own. Curious and very intelligent, they probably don’t even need to be in school, or at least not one hyper-structured like the current ones. However, they are the exception, not the norm.

    Testing is normative. It works well for those who are neither so internally or intrinsically motivated (i.e., by curiousity or the enjoyment of work) that they don’t need external or extrinsic motivation, or for those who are so depressed or retarded that they can find no success on any “normed” test not built to hit them in what educators call their “zone of proximal development.”

    The problems start long before the tests kick in. Long before kids get to high-stakes testing, they have usually lost their innate human ability to enjoy DIFFICULT learning for its own sake. Some of this is family/community environment and some is school itself, which is still largely based on out-dated industrial and pre-industrial models.

    (As a parent, I fear leaving my children in the school system for precisely this reason. It is hard to afford alternatives like Montessori or Waldorf that focus on intrinsic motivation models.)

    In the current system, by middle school and up, testing is a necessary accountability tool because children have developed a desire to “get over” and see learning as an uncool chore. Overwhelmed teachers with caseloads of 140-170 students find it impossible to conceive, assign, assess and give feedback on alternative ways students can show mastery (essays, oral presentations, debates, etc.), at least regularly.

    Testing is enjoying a resurgence not because it is so great, but because we are desperate, and society lacks the will OR COHESION to embrace significant (and expensive) alternatives for public school.

    Right now in Oakland, we are giving the CAHSEE test. Before I taught here, I was against the test. Now, I’m not so sure. Certainly, there need to be accommodations for language, disability, etc. But when you see so many kids getting a high school degree just for showing up each day and learning NOTHING, it has to make you think about accoubility.

    When a student or parent tells me they or their child “doesn’t test well,” I believe them. But when that student is unwilling or able to do homework, to come to tutoring, to embrace curiousity about the subject or the world beyond … well, it leaves us little room to help them beyond exhortations that mean little to them.