Thursday, October 11, 2007

Has Standardized Testing Dumbed Down the Curriculum?

In an opinion column in Teacher Magazine, Anthony Cody has written an interesting piece entitled Bad Testing Drives Out Good Learning. In it, he quotes this exchange from the blog Teaching in the 408.
Commenter Nancy Flanagan wrote:
"NCLB has put the bright lights on some pretty awful schools...but stops short of pushing 21st Century learning skills (synthesis, analysis, creativity, collaboration) in favor of the multiple-guess and fact regurgitation. NCLB has settled for rote presentation and narrowed curriculum, a disservice to kids who deserve more and better of everything—resources, teaching, attention, depth, etc."

The blog author, a teacher of reading and writing to ELL and SpEd students responded:
"There's nothing here that says ONLY teach basic skills. The law says AT LEAST teach those skills. If we can't handle the AT LEAST, of what value is the MORE?"
In the article Cody asks, "Does this logic hold up?" Read the piece for his take on this.

What's my take on this? I constantly try to convince my students and the teachers I work with that the state standards should be considered the floor for instruction, or the foundation from which they should work. It should not be the ceiling, or what we are aiming for. Unfortunately, the emphasis on AYP has forced many schools to focus on simply meeting the standards, not moving beyond them. Don't get me wrong, I am all for accountability and standards, and I would fully stand behind teaching to the tests if the test were decent. It is possible to move beyond recall in standardized testing, but is expensive, so it isn't often done. Ultimately what I hope to convince my teachers of is that by shooting for more, by making the standards the floor or foundation of what they do, by focusing on understanding rather than memorization, that students will not only pass the tests, but will come through the academic year with a higher level of interest and will be better prepared to take on more challenging work.

Now it's your turn. What do you think?


  1. I like that -- the floor, not the ceiling. For many of our students, meeting the bar IS like the ceiling. But we have to do all we can for the ones for whom the bar is the floor. That's why I'm teaching hands on algebra to 10 kids while 70 work on basic multiplication facts!!

  2. Are you using Hands-On Equations? I love this and teach my preservice teachers how to use it just in case they get kids who are above grade level.
    I worry about what we're doing to ELL kids when we expect them to meet these standards without a better command of the language. I think they can and should be expected to meet standards, but shouldn't they get some kind of reprieve from being tested before they're ready?

    As for the SpEd kids, I believe they should meet standards as well, but why do we expect one size fits all when kids are all so different?

    I suppose that's why I use the "floor not the ceiling" analogy. I do believe setting high expectations works for all kids, even if reaching them is a stretch.