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Friday, August 12, 2011


Ben Franklin said that America will be a republic “as long as you can keep it” and Abe Lincoln said that the philosophy of the classroom of one generation becomes the philosophy of the government of the next generation. Please join Advocates for Academic Freedom and become part of a grassroots movement to return traditional American values, fact-based curriculum, and accountability to education. We need your voice and involvement if we are going to keep our republic. To join, click on the hot link: http://advocatesforacademicfreedom.org/


Many educational leaders are using the cheating tragedy discovered among Atlanta teachers and administrators as an opportunity to attack the value of testing for accountability. Educators encourage eliminating current skill-based objective testing requirements so that teachers can teach instead of “teaching to the test”. This is a specious argument manipulated by educational experts through ever-changing professional jargon. Once the jargon is eliminated, the flaw in the argument is clear. Lost in the debate is the fact that testing can be a successful accountability tool if several basic changes occur in the educational system. The circuitous debate will continue until the underlying issue has been addressed: test results may be used to hold teachers accountable for that which is beyond their control.

Society has the right to set academic expectations for schools and to expect that accurate methods be used to verify student mastery of basic skills. For example: society has the right to expect students to have instant recall of multiplication facts one through ten and to expect an assessment of the student’s level of mastery. In this case, please, teach to the test!

“Teaching to the test” means to some that tests may include questions which are not a part of the mandatory curriculum and require teachers to teach lessons that will simply assure the student test successfully. The argument proves that teachers are given notice about the types of questions their students will be expected to answer on the test making this another illegitimate argument with two reasonable solutions.

First, teachers need to determine whether the skill is grade-level appropriate. If it is, the real question should be, “Why was the skill missing from the district-approved curriculum?” Typically, teachers write additional lessons to compensate for the flawed district curriculum and to provide the student an opportunity to learn this necessary skill. In this case, teaching to the test can provide greater opportunity for students.

Second, suppose the test question is not grade-level appropriate. For example: it is unreasonable to expect a typical third-grade student to answer questions about the Pythagorean Theorem. In this case, school leadership may request the company which designed the test to eliminate the question from future tests for that grade level and exclude the question in final test results. This is a natural process for developing effective testing tools. There is no need for any student or school district to endure long-term consequences for this type of error. In this situation, teaching to the test has increased communication between educators and creators of tests improving the quality of the testing instrument.

Educators must respect the fact that testing is an accepted accountability tool used by colleges, employers, the military and other entities seeking to define skill level. Children need to be adequately prepared for this level of evaluation.

When educators believe that developing successful testing skills prepares children for the real world, they will not only prepare children for life’s challenges but teachers will also have a valuable tool to help them recognize the specific academic needs of each student.

Test taking skills include a respect for important subtleties of language. Many test questions ask children to compare and contrast ideas, to identify advantages or disadvantages, to know the difference between a graph and a chart. Good test-taking skills encompass good life skills such as learning to pace one-self to avoid lingering too long over difficult questions and to plan to return to them later. Students are taught to identify key words for success such as finding “action” words and making sure that each action item is completed.

When “teaching to the test” has so many advantages for students, why do so many educators undermine the experience? It is not testing that worries teachers but the probability that they will be held accountable for test results when many factors that affect academic success are beyond their control or influence. The following are just a few of the changes which must occur before teachers can accept full accountability for test results.

1. Communication between school districts, the state, text book companies, and publishers of testing materials must be improved to promote creation of testing tools compatible with the state’s curriculum. State curriculums must be skill based rather than “innovative”.
2. Teachers must be treated as professionals and given the right to decide which teaching methods and strategies to use in their classroom. Administrators must support all reasonable choices made by the teacher.
3. School boards, school districts, and administrators must no longer require implementation of any teaching strategy which has not been proven academically sound. Studies must be scientifically based and the results replicable and available to teachers before implementation. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation promotes this requirement.
4. States must meet their obligation to provide clearly stated, reasonable standards for each grade level. NCLB legislation establishes this requirement.
5. Schools must have dependable, adequate funding to provide updated curriculum that meets changing curriculum requirements. NCLB provides good funding in this area.
6. Adequate, dependable funding must be made available for testing supplies and for communication of testing results. Until NCLB provided significant funding, many states had no funding for regular testing tools, for the time and personnel needed to correct the products of assessment tools, or for distribution of the data provided.
7. Teachers must be allowed to participate in regular evaluations of their administrators’ support of district academic and behavioral standards and of their support for teachers attempting to meet those district standards.

Teachers have little or no control over problems identified by this partial list of changes which are needed before public educators can focus effectively on the academic success of their students. Until teachers have a reasonable measure of control over factors which limit academic success of their students, teachers will continue to resist being held primarily accountable for that success.