Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Defense of Teaching to the Test

"Teaching to the test" is largely frowned upon by educators.  I often tell my students about my experience teaching AP United States History.  I found myself trying to cover information so that my students would know enough material to do well on the multiple choice section of the AP exam.  As a result, there was little time for discussion and conversation.  We could not delve to deeply into issues related to historical thinking.  It always seemed like we needed to move to the next topic in order to stay on schedule.

Over at Teaching United States History, Ben Wright wants to redeem the idea of "teaching to the test," but his understanding of this commonly used phrase looks nothing like the kind of "teaching to the test' I found so frustrating as an AP teacher.

 Here is a taste of his methodology:

The goal of my survey courses is to get my students to think like a historian through reading primary sources, constructing arguments based on those sources and evaluating the arguments made by others.  I do not use a textbook (at least not until the American Yawp launches next fall) but instead assign about a dozen primary sources each week.  The midterm and final exam asks the students to use these primary sources to construct a historical argument that answers a broad historical question.  I the students questions, but invite them to think of their own if there is something else that occurs to them.  I will explain these questions right away on Monday and encourage students to keep them in mind throughout the course.  In a way, then, I do spend my semester teaching to the test.  But I think there's nothing wrong with this, as long as you have a test that effectively reflects high quality learning outcomes.  A test that requires students to think critically, communicate clearly, construct arguments, an synthetically organize complex material is a test worth teaching towards. 

Thanks to Megan Piette for her help with this post.