A new article on Education Week, "Teaching With The Test, Not To the Test" by Amy H. Greene & Glennon Doyle Melton, can let us know just how much tests have infiltrated education and how educators will go to any lengths to work with them. Although, I fear that Greene and Melton have gone too far.
They offer fundamental beliefs to help educators prepare students for testing:
- Successful test-takers must first be successful readers.
- Successful test-takers must be able to translate the unique language of the test.
- Learning to be a successful test-taker can be fun.
The first point is the most dangerous. I fear that there will come a day (if it hasn't happened already) where students will see reading as test-taking, not as actual reading - like a book or magazine or newspaper. Greene and Melton claim that a test is like any other genre. I've heard this before and have been in schools where "Tests" is a unit on par with "Memoir" and "Persuasive Essay" (this is encouraged by a well-known and well-respected School of Education). Tests are not a genre of writing. They are an inappropriate assessment tool. Period. Claiming that they are a genre unto themselves is an attempt to legitimize teaching to the test (or with the test .. or whatever you want to call it). Let's not kid ourselves.
The second point is the most benign. Greene and Melton write about "test talk" and teaching kids what it is meant by the different language used in tests. Fair enough. Language is used in different contexts for different reasons. We just need to make sure that "test talk" doesn't become the dominant discourse in classrooms as it so often does. "Test talk" should also be taught along with the idea that these tests are culturally biased, since the language used invites some in while it excludes others. It's only fair to let the students in on that fact.
The last point ... well, I can't imagine how learning to be a successful test-taker can be fun and Greene and Melton offer no evidence or suggestions as to how it can be. Of course, the skills tested on tests could be taught in an interesting way without ever mentioning, discussing, or showing the actual test or questions on it. And, that's what it comes down to. Educators need to work hard to identify the skills tested and teach them like they would teach anything else. In addition, educators need to go beyond the skills tested on the test, since states so often set the bar so incredibly low.
The authors do not mention the effect their new efforts at improving test scores had on actual reading and writing. I was expecting to read that they found that students were doing better in their overall reading. Perhaps the students did, and the authors chose to leave that part out. That, in and of itself, is dangerous. Shouldn't that always be the goal? There's not doubt that tests are a part of education reality (if you can call any of this 'real'). But that does not mean with have to throw good instruction out and replace it with something inferior and then claim it's good instruction.
Whenever someone talks about tests and teaching to (with ... whatever) them, I'm reminded of what I heard Deborah Meier once say at a speaking engagement: If we have a generation of students who are good at taking reading tests, but never pick up a book on their own, we've done something wrong.