My question for President Obama on his State of the Union address

The White House is accepting questions on the State of the Union address at its YouTube channel, so I decided to submit one:

Mr. President, you have talked frequently about the need to avoid teaching to the test. Many educators believe Race to the Top is inconsistent with that value. Can you name one step you’ve taken to discourage teaching to the test?

Vote on it here. (Yes, I would reword it slightly if I could, but it appears as if I cannot edit the question.) Ah, shoot: apparently that’s just a link to one’s own questions, rather than how I can direct others to mine. Probably an honest way to work this.

6 responses to “My question for President Obama on his State of the Union address”

  1. Wangston

    Your link doesn’t work!

  2. Paul Bruno

    A question I’ve been looking for a good answer to: I tend to assume that the best way to raise my students’ scores on state (science) tests is to teach them the required science content to the best of my ability, and then maybe spend a little time making sure they understand how the test works. (e.g., “Bubble in carefully and completely.”) Is there really some sort of “teaching to the test” that would do a better job of raising their scores?

  3. Tim Furman

    I’m going to chime in here. Since reading is one of the two areas that AYP is based on, all American public school kids take reading tests year after year, as you know. You really have to check out your state’s sample tests to get a feel for what kinds of questions comprise a reading test. There are recall, comprehension, inference, sequencing, and vocabulary questions, and all kinds of what I would call “mystery” questions or “show your willingness to play this game” questions. It’s really quite different from testing in math or science, where there’s a chance that your assessment can be related to discrete units of study.

    A big chunk of what is thought of as teaching to the test consists of teachers practicing these kinds of questions with kids on material that they read throughout the year. It is a practice that’s prescribed by curricula, so teachers feel they have little choice but to comply. More and more, the intervals between standardized formative assessment are getting shorter and shorter, so kids are facing a year-round exposure to reading tests, and their teachers have less and less slack to go out on a limb and do something not directly related to the assessment cycle. The fact that it sucks the life force out of children is secondary. If this phenomenon had only transformed reading classes, it would be one thing, but it has also transformed English classes.

    The President has told teachers to stop teaching to the test, and it’s my impression that one of the underlying goals of the Common Core is to get rid of the hazy, devoid-of-content nature of these reading assessments. However, with the new pressures on teachers to produce test scores or face dismissal, I feel that we’re going to see more content drilling to cover whatever it is that the new, magical electronic assessments are going to cover. Whatever happens in the future, the history has been that in elementary and secondary schools, the massive increase in teaching to the test is based on the transformation of reading curricula, in my opinion. I think NCLB would have played out very differently if had been based on math and science scores, but they went with math and reading.

  4. Paul Bruno

    I think that puts pretty definite limits on how much blame Obama (or NCLB or whatever) should get for the existence of “teaching to the test”. At another, equally legitimate level of description the “blame” lies not with testing or testers, but with confused teachers.

    But I feel like I see Obama taking a lot of flack from educators for his SotU comments on “teaching to the test”, very little of which recognizes that “teaching to the test” isn’t actually a sound strategy, even from a self-interested-teacher point of view. Most people – not you, I realize – seem to be implying that “teaching to the test” is actually a totally reasonable response to our testing regime.