Teaching to ‘The Test’ in Texas (and Testing Teachers Will to be Submissive!)

High School Principal Forces Teachers To Take Practice Standardized Science Test. Texas’ Daily News (4/21, Meyers) reports that Santa Fe High School Principal Mike Thomas “apparently upset about students’ scores on a practice standardized test, forced the school’s science teachers to take the exam to prove they understand the material.” In an e-mail, Thomas warned teachers that “failure to take the test…would be considered insubordination.” A spokeswoman for the district said that Thomas’s issued the mandate because he “wanted the teachers to evaluate the types of questions and questioning strategies asked on the TAKS test” and “to make sure teachers were covering the material necessary for students to pass the TAKS test April 3.”

Perhaps if Mr. Thomas laid down the guantlet in a different manner, this would be palatable. Unfortunately this is so proverbially ‘teaching to the test’ it makes it clear some one is worried about the scores, whether or not he had to state it.  The whole testing debate was brought home with this particular article.  Unless there are comments to this blog specifically asking for more interpretation, I will assume that people reading it can do the reasearch on the various aspects of standardized test taking.  I will stick to the main point of asking teachers to take the test to change their teaching practices to match the standardized test.

It is true that state tests are uniquely worded, often in ways which are misleading. This gets to the heart of what is being tested – subject matter or logic skills.   If subject matter is being tested, the questions should be straightforward and direct, not open to mis-interpretation.   When teachers have to spend time re-creating their lesson plans to match the question structure of standardized testing, the teachers are now teaching to the lowest level of knowledge, not the highest.  Multiple choice questions can not be constructed to adequately convey analysis, synthesis and evaluation which require more open ended choices and writing.  Asking teachers to dumb down the curriculum and make it mirror the state tests is ridiculous. Asking teachers to submit to this behavior is, well, tragic and immature on the part of Mr. Thomas.  Threatening insubbordination does not often endear oneself to their staff.

The state test(s) should, if written appropriately (include open ended and written essay answers) address the uses of knowledge, not the recall.   Teachers are correct in teaching to the highest level of  Bloom’s Taxonomy during the school year and not getting into the regurgitation of multiple choice.  When given an ultimatum such as Mr. Thomas’, it removes all the scholarly reasons we have teachers in the first place – to convey the information and develop minds.  Mr. Thomas has done a great job at eroding the actual integrity of good teaching by lowering the standards to the least common denominator.  Since Mr. Thomas is merely after test scores, he may get his wish of higher test scores and yet have uneducated students, not ready for college.

I believe there is a man, also in TX, named George W. Bush who recently came home to roost after eight rather unsuccessful years in the White House.  He came up with the wiseness of NCL B (with a bit of help from the spin doctor Margaret Spellings). 

 In addition, no matter how the questions are worded, TX students are bound to miss out on aspects of science which have to do with evolution.   What Mr. Thomas is insinuating is for teachers to actually teach biology,   so students can perform on that 0ne section of the test in high school and that is an affront to the State of TX, which is trying to remove this concept from its curriculum.  It must be horrible to be a biology teacher in TX  – you never know which way the wind will blow and you are always a servant to at least three masters – the scientific truths, your principal/state government and last, but not least, TAKS Testing.

At the very least, Mr. Thomas can be praised for sending an e-mail and using the word insubordination in it and realize the e-mail would ultimately be made public (either that or the man is not in the 21st Century).   I wish Mr. Thomas two things – forebearance to do what is correct (this is different from right) in the future and the ability to win over his teaching staff so his staff will respect him.  He may be a principal, however, he is sorely lacking in principles.

Updated 4/29/09 http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/04/29/30koretz_ep.h28.html?tkn=NVOFrov3C%2FZ3K6N23ailiNrQcSf4%2BT6T6jHI