On February 8, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan told about 200 folks gathered at the Emerging Issues Forum at the Raleigh Convention Center that teachers shouldn’t teach to the test. His message—that schools in the United States need to spark creative thinking and move away from curricula that just teach to standardized tests—has teachers nationwide wondering if Washington’s education czar is suffering from schizophrenia.
Every step in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standardization movement has turned teaching into an assembly-line job nationwide and teaching-to-the-test has become Job One. In Texas, where a Governor Bush implemented a form of NCLB before becoming President, lessons were scripted to assessments. Teachers who valued creative teaching retired in massive numbers. Half of the states implemented high stakes exams forcing students to focus solely on the tests. After they take the tests, students ignore remaining coursework.
This new administration has done nothing to reverse teaching-to-the-test and is making the emphasis on testing worse.
Race to the Top funding, the new template for NCLB, is even more test dependent. To get the federal award, states must adopt common core standards, essentially a national curriculum for language and mathematics. This common core will not be optional. States that receive funding must adopt 100 percent of the national core. States may add a total of 15 percent more content, but it won’t be part of the national assessment. State input is irrelevant.
Along with common core national standards will come a national test so that everyone is measured by the same yardstick. The feds are allotting $350 million for the first stages in the development of the national core content test. It will probably replace the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This national super-test will immediately become the teach-to-the-test curriculum that language and math teachers will be required to teach tomorrow. Secretary Duncan’s appeal to not teach-to-the-test sounds hollow when their own top-down education policies mandate it.
Many school administrators have already told their teachers to stop teaching anything that is not on the current state assessments, and be sure they drill everything that is on the assessments. This is “curriculum alignment” and creativity is not on the assessments.
Professional development programs and grants award teachers a point for taking a workshop on implementing standards, another point for incorporating it into their lesson plans, and a third point when student scores go up. That is official promotion of teaching-to-the-test, mandated under both state and federal policies.
And under Race to the Top, states will have to evaluate and pay teachers on how much they raise students’ test scores: “pay for scores.” Even a teacher’s salary will be dependent on teaching-to-the-test! Last June, Duncan took states to task if they barred test scores from being used in teacher evaluations.
No, Secretary Duncan, teachers cannot abandon teaching-to-the-test or their school will be penalized for failing to make AYP and their pay and job is threatened. Just what part of “you made us do it” do you not understand?