27 December 2013

Please Stop the Test Prep in Our Schools

Several weeks ago I began drafting this post after learning from my sisters that their children's schools in North Carolina would start practicing for the state tests.  After talking with teacher and parent friends in Kentucky and around the country and realizing test prep approaches in schools continue to run rampant, I decided it's time to publish this post because this is my way of opening discussion on the issue and my way of encouraging others to do so as well.

Since before launching Learning to Muse in 2012, I have engaged in various conversations with people from around the country about the need to discontinue the test prep approach to teaching.  (Note:  Most of the hundreds of teachers I know do not prefer this approach but feel pressured by the current system to practice for state tests.)  A long time friend and homeschool educator in North Dakota, Gwyn, and I have been dreaming of alternative forms of education and changing the system for some time now.  Only, Gwyn isn't only dreaming--she's making it happen for her own children.  In my quest to persist with public education, I continue to dream that maybe, one day, the landscape will change. 

My own parental heart sank when I once received an email from my son's school (not naming which son or which school for the sake of anonymity here) stating they would begin test prep too.  Specifically, they would be sending home passages for students to read and then answer multiple choice questions "to improve their reading abilities."

As a literacy consultant and former English teacher, I happen to know that requiring students to read passages and answer multiple choice questions is not the way to improve their reading abilities.  As I wrote in a previous post, this is exactly what I feared would happen upon release of the state standardized test scores. The tests themselves are not the problem nor are new standards the problem.  The problem is using a test prep approach for teaching.  Grant Wiggins wrote about this topic last year when people were blaming the tests for all the test prep in schools. 

In the post "Dear High Performing School District," a principal writes to a school district about his dissatisfaction with all the test prep his own children had to endure.  He clearly articulates the same frustration I feel with the focus on subjects that are tested in a specific grade area, or the continuous skill and drill.  Fortunately for his family, they had options to transfer to a different district that focused less on test prep.  Where I live, where my sisters live, and where my friends live that's not an option. Plus, the idealist side of me continues to believe in public education and the potential to transform learning systems in public education to focus on what all kids need, not just what my own kids or relatives need.

Perhaps it's time for me to revisit some of my own advice in a previous post.  As a parent, I will continue to support my own children and their learning opportunities.  I will support the schools and judge them on factors beyond their test scores.  As Brian Nichols mentioned in his letter to a high performing school district, our aim should be "to create problem solvers who find multiple solutions instead of ones that need answer choices."  Insisting that teachers focus on test prep will not help our children become better readers, better thinkers, or better citizens. 
Teachers interpret CCSS for reading-no test prep!

Think about what can happen when educators take action!  The story of Gwyn mentioned above isn't the only story about educators and parents taking action, check out this article about a school in Colorado that's led by the teachers.  They explicitly state "because several of MSLA's founding teacher leaders held National Board certification, the school focused on more robust forms of student learning, not just quick fixes to raise standardized test scores in short order."  They are emphasizing students controlling their own learning and putting the joy back into learning.  These two examples give me hope that maybe--just maybe--all of our children will go to school to learn, not to prepare for tests.

We must persist with creating learning opportunities that promote critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and problem solving.  Our children deserve it!