Teaching to the tests?
October 17, 2005
Editor’s note: As part of its election coverage, The Aspen Times asked candidates for the three open seats on the Aspen School Board five questions. This is the final installment.Today’s Question: What should the Aspen School District do to avoid “teaching to the tests,” including CSAPs and other standardized tests?Elizabeth ParkerThe essence of this question is to what extent should existing curriculum or teaching methods be changed in order to achieve higher scores on standardized tests, and how much class time should be devoted to teaching students how to take these tests. First, the schools need to articulate, especially to the parents, the value of these tests and emphasize that they are only a single indicator of student performance. Students do need to become familiar with the format of tests and how to master them, and they should be learning the content areas measured by the tests. However, too much focus on test-taking can interfere with the development of other skills we expect of our students, such as critical and creative thinking and experiential learning. I believe that teacher input is the most essential component in determining the proper balance between these two goals. Charla BelinskiWe should offer excellent and ongoing training to all teachers in classroom differentiation and make sure they are exposed to the most current and practical strategies to enhance the education of every single student who walks through their doors. We should use these tests to the best of our abilities, not allowing them to weaken our methodology but rather analyzing the data to make us stronger.Gauging performance is not a bad thing unto itself – good teachers do it all the time. My observation is that the Aspen School District teachers are doing a good job of balancing the demands of the tests with an extraordinary and well-rounded education both inside and outside of the classroom.Ernie FyrwaldI don’t know enough about the subject to make a comment. I do know, however, that virtually every college in the nation uses standardized tests for a student acceptance barometer. Being somewhat prepared for that would not be unwise.Andrew KoleI suggest that this is the wrong question. The only way to avoid teaching to the tests is to “not” teach to them. The question we should ask is, “should we teach to the tests?”My answer is yes … and no. It is the obligation of the district to provide the best education possible while providing the best opportunities to advance after graduation. Since colleges are more competitive than ever in respect to admission, and they consider test scores very important in their admission process, it would be foolish to avoid teaching toward them entirely. At the same time, we can’t afford to replace certain skills learned in school with just “teaching to the tests.” So, it is a fine line, a moving target that the board needs to keep in its sights. Bob LangleyI don’t think you can get around “teaching for the tests,” but neither do I think it should be a primary focus for the students. It can and should be part of an integrated curriculum that prepares the students for life.Part of life, and getting into prestigious institutions, includes the successful taking of tests. We need to ensure that our students are prepared for life.