How many tests do our students take before they graduate? More importantly, how many different types of tests do they take? By graduation, many of our students will have sat through a battery of standardized tests in K-8, and a series of tests necessary for graduation and for entrance into college. As a high school mathematics teacher, when I hear someone speak about teaching to the test, my thought is “Which one?” As a math teacher, I can be tasked with preparing my students for multiple tests. At my school, our students will take High School Assessments, the PSAT, the SAT, and possibly the ACT, Advanced Placement exams, and the Accuplacer. They will also take a series of benchmark tests, midterm exams, and final exams.
I understand the idea behind assessing students learning, but I worry about how our students can be successful when they are preparing for so many different types of tests. The format of questions, the level of difficulty, and the overall expectations of these tests are so diverse. For example, while a ninth grader may master the basic concepts of algebra and perform well on a High School Assessment test, he or she may test into a non-credit bearing mathematics course based on his or her Accuplacer score as a senior. Did the student score poorly because he or she did not retain the information? Did the student score poorly because the format of the questions was different? Did the student score poorly because the expectations of the two tests are not the same? The possible causes for a decline in success are endless.
I wonder if other teachers see the diversity in the format and expectations of testing as a challenge. A question that tests a concept could look very different depending on the type of test. The real challenge that we have to overcome is finding ways to effectively prepare our students to apply their content knowledge in any situation. The analysis, application, and perseverance in problem-solving are the real skills that students may be lacking. It is not that their teacher does not teach the content in the curriculum. The cause for a lack of success might just be the student’s inability to translate their knowledge to other situations.