Jeff at So You Want to be a Science Teacher finds an intersection between an NPR story and a George Will column, both on the troubles of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jeff makes a good point in his post about testing students turning into a major bureacracy and shifting the focus away from teaching to the test itself. What especially caught my eye, however, was this quote from Will’s column:
To those who criticize "teaching to the test," [Roy] Romer [Superintendent of LA schools and former Colorado Governor] responds: That is what flight schools do because we take flying seriously. He likens testing throughout the school year to what many football teams now do by studying photos during the game, when diagnosis is immediately useful.
I may be missing something (always a possibility) but I don’t see the connections. Learning to fly and playing professional football both require learning a lot of information. But a pilot and a quarterback are both trained to take that information and adapt it to various situations. That’s not what teaching to the test is all about. Teaching to the test is about holding a set of facts in your head long enough to spit it back on the paper and rack up enough points to pass.
A good, general education – something students should have when they leave us for the "real world" – consists of both knowing some facts (or where to find them) and having some idea of what to do with them. The more emphasis we place on passing the test, the less we place on understanding and application. Real life is an open-ended essay test, not multiple choice and true-or-false.