For the most part, most of the teachers and principals that I have spoken with have been fairly strongly anti-standardized testing. However--in the last few months I did have two conversations with acquaintances--one, a teacher, and the other, a principal--who did shed some light on the ways in which testing has been used to advance teaching. And in the interests of fairness and erudition, I thought I would share their reflections.
The teacher explained to me that when the MEAP started, it was seen as a tool to encourage teachers in a certain way. Although there were state curriculum standards, it was sometimes hard to get teachers to teach to them. The thinking went that if skills--particularly higher-level skills--were represented on the tests, then teachers would naturally want to teach them.
And the example she gave me? Manipulatives.
In elementary school math, manipulatives are used to teach math in a concrete way. So, for example, bundles of tens are a type of manipulative. Modern math education theory has as a foundation that students need to understand what numbers really are, and that--for instance--using manipulatives allows students to understand what is really happening when you add 10 + 10. However, at the time--and still today--some teachers only were teaching the arithmetic. In other words, they were/are not teaching what 10 + 10 means, but rather, simply--how do you add 10 + 10.
So--the designers of the MEAP began
including questions that involved descriptions of manipulatives,
in order to encourage teachers
to introduce actual manipulatives
in order that their students would
remember the actual manipulatives when
asked about it on the MEAP.
And because the test was (becoming) a high-stake test
Even teachers who were resistant to using manipulatives would start using them.
The principal told me a similar story. Fast forward fifteen or twenty years though, to today's environment. And she said, and I'm paraphrasing/summarizing here, that the high-stakes nature of the test allows her to check in regularly with teachers and make sure that they are teaching what they should be teaching.
And my thoughts about this?
We need a test to make sure that principals are able to evaluate teachers? Really?
I don't believe it.
This whole system reminds me of using a hammer when a screwdriver is required.