Teaching to the Test

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed one of the most significant bills of his presidency, the No Child Left Behind Act. The goal of this legislation was to close the achievement gap, making sure that students from all over America would have the same opportunities to learn and achieve success. There was a general feeling in many parts of the United States that local and state governments had been failing students, and No Child Left Behind was intended to address this issue by holding students and schools everywhere to the same standard. The Act leaves it up to individual states to set their curriculum standards and to introduce standardized tests to measure students’ progress, across the state.

Of course, even before 2002, standardized educational testing had been roundly discredited as an effective way to evaluate student learning. However, No Child Left Behind made standardized testing the central priority of every school in America. A provision of the act states that federal funding for schools is dependent on how many of the students in each school are meeting the educational standards. Paradoxically, schools where the students are performing less well have their budgets cut, making it more difficult for that school to meet the standards in the future.

Since their budgets depend on having all of their students score well on the standardized tests, schools across the country are increasingly focused on preparing students to write their tests, at the exclusion of all else. This phenomenon is called “teaching to the test” and is generally considered a major problem in our education system, yet nobody in charge has done anything to change it. If anything, the politicians in Washington have DEEPENED America’s commitment to standardized testing rather than finding a more effective way to help our nation’s children succeed.

With so much riding on students’ test scores, teachers and school districts are naturally focusing on increasing these scores by any means possible. Several states have dumbed down their tests in order to ensure that more students perform well. Many school districts throughout the country have eliminated classes that are not being tested, such as social studies, art, and music, so students can spend more time preparing for their tests. But perhaps worst of all, throughout America, teachers are teaching to the test instead of actually helping students to achieve a thorough understanding of the subject matter.

Teaching to the test means that our nation’s teachers have drastically narrowed their teaching methods. The standardized tests in history focus on knowing specific facts, so our history teachers repeatedly drill their students on information they need to memorize rather than helping their students to achieve an understanding of the significance and importance of historical events. English teachers spend time drilling their students on how to quickly answer multiple choice questions rather than teaching them to read critically and express themselves with their writing. Math teachers are showing their students the kinds of questions that will be on their tests and practicing answering them over and over rather than helping them understand WHY they are learning math and how it works.

This kind of teaching does help improve test scores. However, it does so at the cost of actual learning and cultivating students’ long term interest in education. In the best conditions, it is difficult for teachers to help students develop a love of learning. In the educational environment created by No Child Left Behind, it is nearly impossible. Basing our entire education system on standardized test results was a tragic mistake, and one that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Every year that passes means another group of American children will have had their potential wasted in an education system that cares more about statistics than holistic learning. We need to reform this system. If you agree with me, please cast your write-in vote for Art Drew for President in 2016.