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Teaching to a_test_worth_teaching_to_reformat_

  1. 1. Teaching to a Test Worth Teaching To In College and High School Richard Hersh Collegiate Learning Assessment College and Work Readiness Assessment rhhersh@sbcglobal.net 203 407 1562 There is an old educational saw that says, we know about excellent education——that ““We value what we measure rather than learning assessment is crucial in providing measure what we value.”” Unfortunately this appropriate and timely feedback to students turns out to be true more often than we and teachers; that the most effective would like to admit because too often tests teaching requires tight coupling of objectives, are selected primarily for their low cost and curricular materials, pedagogy and minimal time demand. Most tests, therefore, assessment. In short, testing is most are short answer, machine scored devices. In powerful when it serves a diagnostic an era demanding 21st century skills, such instructional function in the context of tests are hardly sufficient to the task of everyone understanding what is expected to assessing the higher order learning expected be learned, linked to appropriate curricula of a high school and/or college graduate in and pedagogy, and linked to learning preparation for citizenship and work. With assessment that does justice to the the advent of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) complexity of the learning required. Put initiative and ubiquitous high stakes testing another way, a good assessment measure of the short answer variety, there is an ought to give both students and teachers an increasing unease that we have reduced our adequate and accurate sense of learning learning objectives to only those things that objectives, standards of excellence, and can be measured in such an economical achievement. format. Consider how we educate people for the To the degree that we have ““dumbed down”” acquisition of highly valued knowledge and our curricula to fit the confines of short skills, for example, surgeons, airline pilots, answer tests, we shortchange both our and architects. Our lives depend on their students and our society in need of higher expertise. Indeed, what they must learn is so order learning to compete well in a global important we devote much time and energy information society. ““Teaching to the test”” to making sure we assess their knowledge has thus become the pejorative mantra of and skills in very sophisticated ways educational critics for good reason. eventually leading to licensure——the Moreover, such limited testing violates what assessment and public sanctioning of their
  2. 2. prowess. We do not limit our testing of assessments that can not do justice to what surgeons, pilots, or architects to short answer we care about. This too common reality and/or essay tests——we ask them to perform explains why high school and college across a wide variety of real tasks they will students’’ lament dull lectures and mid terms face on the job and for tasks they will rarely and finals as the only assessment, or papers face but must be ready for in case. due at the end of the term for which a grade is given with minimal feedback. Such learning To prepare for these professions, students is experienced by students as passive, must undergo rigorous intellectual training unfulfilling and unhelpful even while they and serve apprenticeships under masters silently cooperate, happy to comply with so (teachers, professors) who constantly assess little demand. their knowledge and skills through simulation, internships, and guided practice. High level Our current high school and college mastery is the goal and quality and timely assessment of unclear outcomes or feedback from assessment is understood to inadequate assessment of rich outcomes be crucial to the development of that provides too few signals to students to help mastery. Their assessments are not limited to them understand what it is they are really paper and pencil tests——none of us would being held accountable for and misses the ever consider flying with a pilot who has not opportunity to help students celebrate been fully tested on take offs and landings, or mastery on a challenging assessment worthy being operated on by a surgeon who had not of the outcomes. Put bluntly, we have asked been trained in operating rooms, or living in a too little of our students and ourselves and building designed by an architect who had we have reaped what we have sown. The not had sufficient supervised practice and increasing public lament about high school testing in the design and construction of such and college graduates is that they cannot edifices. write or speak well (thinking made public), cannot think critically, and that they graduate It seems that when we truly value the with a sense of entitlement with little self outcomes we always find ways to make sure discipline or the humility of knowing that we robustly assess knowledge and skills in there is so much one does not know. We are ways that approximate the ends we seek. not doing justice to the enabling of our When something is important, we make sure human capital, the most precious civic and that the ends, means and assessment are economic resource in meeting the challenges inextricably linked——and we devote whatever of the 21st century. financial and time resources necessary to make sure the objectives are met at very high In this context the Collegiate Learning levels. In this sense, we teach to a test worth Assessment project (CLA) has now added the teaching to. But this is not what happens College and Work Readiness Assessment very often in K 12 or in college and university (CWRA) that attempts to provide an exemplar undergraduate programs. We list lofty goals of a high school and college test worth too abstract to properly measure; we do not teaching to. And while the CWRA does not invest in the appropriate curricula and measure all that is worth learning, it is a test pedagogy to do justice to the learning we worth teaching to because it takes seriously claim to value; and we use learning core outcomes of universally valued ““higher”” 2
  3. 3. order learning, namely critical thinking, knowledge and comprehension on the one analytical reasoning, problem solving and hand and on the other, the ability to make writing. Moreover, it demands performance use of such knowledge and understanding to from students that can only be accomplished think critically, synthesize, and evaluate?”” The by rigorous, sustained practice and feedback answer, of course, is for teachers to develop from caring teachers and professors who hold learning objectives and assessments that appropriately high expectations for their simultaneously require the mastery of students. appropriate content and the ability to reason to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate The CLA and CWRA are intended to be data in cogent and coherent ways. In this powerful signaling devices——they make clear sense, the CLA and CWRA signal teachers to that specific higher order learning is valued think about how to construct similar because that is what the measures require; assessments for classroom use in terms of they allow an institution to gather formative what is worth learning and how to be able to data that informs institutional improvement; make use of such knowledge. they allow for institutional comparisons and thus the ability to benchmark quality; they At a time when this country is reaching an signal that such outcomes can only be important consensus about what skills are collectively accomplished across the entire necessary for a 21st century high school and curriculum; and by measuring value added college education, it is crucial that the they permit both the individual student and conversation about outcomes does justice to institution to measure progress or the lack the development of appropriate learning thereof in a way that allows for correction. assessments. We believe that assessment is Moreover, the CLA and CWRA signal the kinds and ought to be an important form of of examples of pedagogy, materials, and teaching and learning rather than a ticket standards one can construct in any and all punched allowing students to take the next classrooms to facilitate meeting these ride. Towards that end, ““teaching to a test important objectives. worth teaching to”” is meant to convey the message that there is real potential for We recognize, of course, that subject matter excellent and timely assessment to improve and disciplined based learning matters as well instruction and enhance learning. but our focus is to ask ““how does one strike the right balance between teaching 3