Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about what I would be doing with my classes if the test wasn't coming.
I recently received this comment from commenter, Becky von St. Paul:
"It's been my experience (32 years worth) that if you teach the curriculum and make sure that students have mastered skills, the test scores come. I know many teachers who fall back on test prep, etc., but these things are truly NOT necessary if you have really taught the kids what they need to know."
I've been interested in the question of whether good teaching really leads to good test scores for some time. I appreciate Becky's comment and believe what she says must be true in her context. Though I'd love to believe that it's always true that good teaching leads to good test scores, I don't think it's that simple.
For example, standardized tests--while always narrow and blunt instruments (to which I'd say goodbye in a heart beat)--can be reasonably appropriate measures of learning for some students... but not for others. A student who enters my 8th grade class with a 2nd grade reading level should not be taking the 8th grade ELA test. And good teaching for one year that helps said student grow will not lead to a "good" score on the 8th grade test. This is where context begins to matter.
Another piece of context that can affect teaching, learning and test scores are the conditions for students at a school and in their home environments. I've had certain classes and certain years where students' social emotional needs were so high, due to conditions both in the school and outside, that I spent a lot of class time working on skills that would allow students to process what they were going through so that they could begin to turn their attention to academics. The end result of this work? Many students grew in their ability to simply be students and see themselves as students. This, in the face of 50% odds they would not finish high school. I taught less traditional academics with those classes, but felt like we made tons of progress in the ability to self-reflection, problem-solve and collaborate. For some students, more motivation meant better test scores. For others, they would need much more practice than that year provided to improve the skills that were tested.
Using a single, narrow test as a measure of student learning--which is still what is being done with these tests, no matter how much proponents of testing speak of multiple measures--supposes that all students need to learn the same things in a year and arrive at the same point. That pushes teachers to teach material that is often not appropriate for all of their students. It also pushes teachers to adhere to THE curriculum, even when that may not be the most appropriate learning experience for a particular group or sub group of students.
Finally, what kind of good teaching are we talking about? Fellow blogger, Bill Ferriter, and NBCT who is highly skilled and committed to teaching his students to be global citizens, leveraging digital media, has written before that despite his success with students around his goal of teaching them 21st century skills, his students' test scores were never as high as the teacher's down the hall. This was because of the choices he made about what kind of learning was most important.
What do you think? When does good teaching lead to high test scores? When doesn't it?
[image credit: findmycompany.com]