Bruno: Teaching Content Vs. "Teaching To The Test"
The Obama administration has been taking a lot of flak - most recently from Jon Stewart - for criticizing "teaching to the test" while simultaneously pushing policies that are arguably going to encourage exactly that sort of behavior by teachers and school officials.
I think it's fair enough to blame President Obama to the extent that his policies promote ineffective instruction. At the same time, though, the phrase "teaching to the test" masks a lot of variability in what educators are actually doing to improve their scores, and it's not always obvious that when schools "teach to the test" they're helping themselves at all.
Take curriculum narrowing, for example. On the one hand, it seems clear that many schools have reduced time spent on other subjects to focus on reading and math, and that this is probably not good in the long run for affected students. (Although it's worth noting that this seems to be less of an issue at the high school level.) On the other hand, is this curriculum narrowing even a particularly good way to improve reading scores? Given how important a wide breadth of content knowledge is to reading comprehension, and how little value there seems to be in lengthy "reading comprehension strategy" instruction, I would argue that it probably is not.
Similarly, there are reasons to be skeptical about the effectiveness of spending significant instructional time on "test-taking strategies". It's probably helpful for students to be familiar with the structure of a test, even if only to improve its validity, but presumably the most helpful thing for students will be knowing the content being tested. Apart from a few short lessons prior to our state test in May I spend no time whatever teaching test-taking strategies to my science students because I figure that they will get better scores anyway if I spend my all-too-precious instructional minutes just teaching the content laid out in our science standards.
In other words, a lot of "teaching to the test" strikes me as only questionably effective even as a means of improving test scores. (I'd like to see more research on this, although this Gates Foundation report offers some circumstantial support for my position.) To the extent that educators are responding to even perverse incentives in counterproductive ways, I think there's plenty of blame to go around. - PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)