Why Educators “Teach to the Test”

By Dr. Amy Burkman
Program Director, M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision, American Public University

When I am in a social setting and people find out what I do for a living, there is always at least one person who feels the need to ask me why teachers always teach to the test. At this point, my husband always takes a step back and begins eyeing the person who asked the question with pity. I don’t know if he is avoiding the sweeping gestures I make when I talk about something I am excited about or if he just wants out of the line of fire, but he definitely knows that this is one of my hot topics.

In education, we take curriculum and assessment very seriously. We know that all learning must be assessed and that there must be a system of assessment in place. This is true in any field. Businesses set annual goals and assess their effectiveness at the end of the year. Business writer Steven Covey talks about beginning with the end in mind. However, when this principle is applied in education we are teaching to the test!

I think that perhaps educators have not done a great job of explaining the curriculum and assessment process. That is why so many people are still asking that question. I don’t think I should be conquering this negative stigma one person at a time. I think this calls for a blanket explanation.

The process of curriculum development is complex. States have curriculum guidelines and national organizations have curriculum guidelines, and sometimes even districts have curriculum guidelines and they don’t always overlap. With the implementation of the Common Core Standards, much of the inconsistency has been removed, but there are still many levels of curriculum guiding and implementation. These standards create the basis of what is taught in the classroom.

When teachers are planning instruction, they must set goals for their students. Many times this means that they break the curriculum into smaller units so that assessment can be done periodically to determine student learning. To effectively plan the instruction, teachers must evaluate the assessments so they can identify the key elements of the curriculum that are assessed. This assessment must be clearly aligned with the curriculum so student learning can be accurately assessed. In a standardized testing situation, the assessment is created specifically to assess the state and/or national curriculum. That means the test is clearly aligned with what students are taught.

So, to answer the question: “Why do we teach to the test” I can only answer, “We don’t teach to the test, the test assesses what we teach.”

About the Author:
Amy Burkman is the director of the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program at APUS. Prior to moving to higher education she was a school administrator, a teacher, and a school librarian. She received her Doctor of Education from Texas Christian University and she holds educator certification in Texas, where she resides with her family.

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