Monday, May 12, 2008

Fighting the Test Prep Culture

I've been tossing around this idea for a while now as I've been finishing up the final classes of my senior year. It's a little out there, so please stay with me till the end.

The test prep culture in our schools is bad and widespread. It detracts from learning. It pervades all of our classes. It impedes good relationships between students and teachers. How do we rid ourselves of this beast? Well, my answer, and I know it is kind of out there is this: Legitimize It!

What do you mean, Seth? That's ridiculous! Why would we legitimize something that we wanted to get rid of.

What I am suggesting here is that we legitimize testing by recognizing that for primary and secondary education students it is important to know how to take a test and how to take it well.

Standardized tests in 4th and 7th grade are sometimes the only way to distinguish among such a large and diverse field of candidates in middle and high school admissions. And the SAT and ACT tests are the current standard for college admissions (barring certain really amazing liberal arts schools.)

Right now, the social divide between people with college educations and those without is growing, and in today's world, you're going to have to take some tests in order to get that seemingly magical degree.

Thus, the ability to take a test is quite a valuable one. So why not create a class to teach that skill?

Testing Class, as I will call it, by its very nature would be a process (instead of content) based learning class, something we need more of in our schools. It would teach students how to approach many problems and issues. It would also be more helpful in preparing them for standardized tests, by focusing on specific skills rather than today's tactic of vaguely tying it into other subjects, which just confuses students as to what they're supposed to be concentrating on. This aspect of the class could also hopefully improve equality by giving students who can't afford pricey test prep services these helpful skills.

But the most important part of Testing Class, will be that it will alleviate the need for test prep in academic subjects. Academic teachers will then be able to focus more on other skills, such as writing, approaching a document, understanding complex conceptual ideas, and creative projects.

Just an idea...


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Amanda said...
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Amanda said...

Interesting point, however one could argue that all classes which give students tests prepare you for tests. Having taken semi-pricey SAT classes, the only valuable offering was the numerous practice tests that we took repeatedly for weeks. The fact is is that the tips given are honed specifically for the SAT or ACT and if a class is introduced based solely on these tests, we may find ourselves soon outdated as curriculum would need to be reinvented with every update (ie. the ridiculous SAT essay)

Amanda said...

Interesting point, however one could argue that every class which gives tests prepares students for future ones. Having taken semi-pricey SAT prep classes, the only thing of value given was the numerous past SAT tests that we took repetitively over weeks. If a class was to be introduced based on specifically the SAT or ACT then we may run into more problems since the curriculum would need to be continually revised with every update (ie. the removal of analogies and addition of the essay in the new SAT). Private companies can execute this quickly, but knowing the public school system...

mctavish100 said...

You are speaking my language here. The sooner the education authorities realize that teaching students testing and learning skills the sooner we will see quantum leaps in grades and aspirations.

It is not just about testing it is about assimilating knowledge. We are all different. We are wired up differently, right and left brain thinkers. We learn differently.

Not least let's focus on the confidence and self-esteem of students. Focus on those things first and then teach and then test.


Evan Abbey said...

I like your thinking, Seth. This is a very logical solution to the problem that we educators have been banging our head's against for years.

The question is, is this what we want? Do we want manufactured test scores? Do the "test prep skills" serve any purpose other than getting us into college? If you're anything like me, those test prep skills will totally be useless when you are 30, as you don't take standardized bubble-filling anymore.

If that's truly the only benefit, I'll raise you... why don't we just cheat? That would be really out there. With the disparity in salaries so stark, I'd say schools are being unethical if they don't do everything to help their students get into college. Let's give them the answers. Not perfect scores, but enough to get into the school. Like you mentioned, that would free up even more time for the most important learning in other classes.

Well... morally, we can't do that. I'd say it's wrong to manufacture test scores just as it is wrong to cheat. It doesn't help student. We need to help students be successful in the world by emphasizing creativity, analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making. Unfortunately, that puts us back in the same dilemma, namely the test scores, and that's where we as educators need to do some soul searching and see if those tests truly are the best thing to determine college-readiness.