Teaching To The Text

Meredith Broussard argues that standardized tests measure “specific knowledge contained in specific sets of books: the textbooks created by the test makers”:

All of this has to do with the economics of testing. Across the nation, standardized tests come from one of three companies: CTB McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or Pearson. These corporations write the tests, grade the tests, and publish the books that students use to prepare for the tests. Houghton Mifflin has a 38 percent market share, according to its press materials. In 2013, the company brought in $1.38 billion in revenue.

Put simply, any teacher who wants his or her students to pass the tests has to give out books from the Big Three publishers. If you look at a textbook from one of these companies and look at the standardized tests written by the same company, even a third grader can see that many of the questions on the test are similar to the questions in the book. In fact, Pearson came under fire last year for using a passage on a standardized test that was taken verbatim from a Pearson textbook.

Jarvis DeBerry adds:

If standardized tests are going to be based on textbooks that school systems can’t afford, [Broussard] writes, then you can guarantee that poor school districts are going to fail. She points out that in the 2012-13 school year, a school in Southwest Philadelphia used a reading curriculum by Houghton Mifflin called the Elements of Literature. The textbook paired with that curriculum costs $114.75. The school’s entire textbook budget per child? $30.30.

Update from a reader:

So we’ve gone from “teaching to the test” to “teaching to the text?” What’s the difference? None, actually! And what’s wrong with either of them? Why would you NOT want to test for the success of what you’ve taught or trained students to do? It’s absurd that this would even be a question.

Would you give a test in physics for a class in English? Well, maybe if you wanted to test the student on the reading of physics, but in order to do that you have to be able to understand physics. Reading is for one of two things – pleasure or gaining knowledge – and in order to comprehend one of the key elements is background knowledge.

Background knowledge, or rather the lack of it, is the root of the reading problem. If a child from an impoverished area has never heard of let alone seen about painting a fence, how can they even understand the concept?

Standardized testing is a problem. Personally, I believe it should never be used in measurement for evaluating. It should be a tool to decide what is missing and what needs to be the next step. Politicians and corporations are responsible for the evaluating turn. The tests are written for recall and regurgitation. They do not show what a student is capable of accomplishing.

The Common Core has been assailed for many different reasons. The #1 we’ve seen is parents not understanding the questions. Louis C.K. made a big deal because of a math problem his daughter had that he couldn’t understand. He said there was no answer. There was an answer, but he was looking for 2+2=4 and the question asked why the student had solved the question incorrectly. No one tried to even identify the multiple problem solving steps that had to be in play. Well, at least the adults didn’t; all they did was bitch because they actually felt stupid – well, ignorant actually. A 4th grader would be trained to answer the problem; the first step they have to take is to solve the stated question correctly; they then work back to see what the other student did incorrectly. This, in itself, is invaluable.

Education has this problem of reinventing the wheel. It usually comes from the insistence of outside influences. Influences that have no idea of what they speak. Something interesting has been quietly happening in schools around the country. Teachers & principals are re-finding John Dewey’s Progressive Education. They are also being incredibly successful, not only with the kids but also doing better & better on the standardized tests.

Oh, if you look closely at Common Core, you can discover that most of it is based on John Dewey. Here is a link to Wiki. If you just look at the bullet points at the beginning, you can get an idea of what it’s about – Progressive Education.