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Standardized Tests Set The Standards

In a column from the Opinion pages of today’s Post, Jay Mathews wants to redefine the phrase “teaching to the test”. He wants to convince the reader that teachers should be doing just that, based on the concept that the contents of a standardized test is the same as instructional standards.

He begins with this little bit of questionable logic.

When we say “teaching to the test,” we should acknowledge that we are usually not talking about those drill fests. Rather, we often use the phrase to refer to any course that prepares students for one of the annual state assessment exams required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Actually, “drill fests” are exactly what is going on in many classes in preparation for the standardized tests. In addition, schools all over the country have been phasing out “frills” like music, art, and even social studies in favor of more sessions to drill students on test questions.

But there’s more here that shows Mathews doesn’t spend much time in schools.

There are, of course, ways to teach to the test that are bad for kids and that occur now and then in schools. Principals afraid that their scores would look bad have forced teachers to go over the same questions from old tests day after day, to prepare for some state assessment. But there is no evidence that this happens often.

Less than an hour drive from his office at the Post (even in rush hour), Mathews could find plenty of classrooms where this kind of “drill fest” using old test questions is happening. Especially now that the spring tests are looming.

But beyond all that, the biggest problem with Mathews’ column is that he is advocating that the contents of state standardized tests become THE standards for all students to meet.

You would think we could find something better than the lowest common denominator to be the instructional standard for our educational system.

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2 Comments

  1. Jack

    Two things struck me about Mathews’ article.

    First, his lead struck me as funny: “All signs point to 2006 being a crucial year for testing in America, with the first national results from the new SAT due, as well as….” My guess is that, if he’d come up with this column idea last year, 2005 also would have been a “crucial year for testing in America.”

    Second, how can he write for op-ed pages and cover education for the Post, too? Is he a commentator or a reporter?

  2. Tim

    I’m not sure Mathews and his editors know what his role is. Most of his articles, even those published in the news section of the paper, have a very distinct point of view. When it comes to the AP or IB programs or standardized testing, he makes only token attempts at unbiased.

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