Whether or not teachers realize it, they all “teach to the test.” They teach standards and objectives then write tests to assess what they have taught. Students generally figure out how individual teachers will assess and determine grades, but that knowledge may or may not help them on standardized tests.
What is Wrong with Teacher Assessments
Many teachers go to great lengths to use technology to generate tests that have a professional appearance with graphics, charts, tables, and other visuals requiring higher level thinking skills, but many don’t. Bloom’s Taxonomy is familiar to most teachers, but questions on tests too often address only the first two levels – knowledge and understanding. It’s one thing to ask students to name the two closest planets to the Sun. It’s another matter to ask them to compare and contrast the surface features of the two planets.
Additionally, much time is spent preparing students for upcoming standardized tests, and much of that time may be wasted. If teachers spend most of the time trying to cram content into brains, they often find that the practice has been squandered. Students need preparation is how to interpret and formulate answers as much as they need content.
Helping Students Score Better on Standardized Tests
There are ways to improve standardized test scores. They begin by helping students respond to different types of questions that require varying of problem-solving skills. A major way to help is to learn to write good assessments that closely resemble standardized tests. Additional suggestions are found below:
- Revisit Bloom’s Taxonomy and acquaint students with important test words and phrases and what they mean. Students should be able to understand how to compare and contrast, assess, differentiate, explain, discriminate, and the variety of words used in testing jargon.
- Use testing language in teacher made assessments given during the year.
- Do not assume that purchased practice tests or assessments accompanying textbooks are effective – learn how to evaluate well-written tests.
- Teacher should know their content well enough to anticipate concepts that are almost certain to appear on standardized tests. Choose a few of these to emphasize regularly and in different ways.
- Visit websites – including state departments of education – that have sample test items made by professionals. Become familiar with testing formats. Help students become familiar with them.
- Teach students about testing all year. Avoid cramming at the end of the year – students may burn out as a result of too much review.
- Give periodic vocabulary tests that assess words commonly used on tests. Keep them age-appropriate. Give students experience in identifying key words in a question.
- For science testing, be sure students know the steps of the scientific method of investigation that are appropriate according to individual state standards.
- If teachers understand test design, they should offer a well-constructed pretest at the beginning of the school year and offer it again as a post test two or three weeks before standardized testing. Use it to review content and test interpretation. Change the test yearly as needed to work toward better validity and reliability.
Teachers and Principals Need a Little Test Wisdom
Remember that preparing students for standardized tests is a yearlong activity. Talking about standardized testing continuously is not recommended, but taking the necessary steps can be done without mentioning testing. Avoiding references to standardized tests is wise and helps avoiding unnecessary stress.
Just do the necessary things suggested above beginning on the first day of instruction. Also, there are many good books about helping students with test-taking in general. Teachers might consider talking to their principals about purchasing some for teachers to share.
Teachers should analyze their own tests for professional appearance and sound construction. Compare them with professionally designed test samples on the Internet, and allow peers to review them.
Principals can help teachers by improving their knowledge of test construction. Faculty meetings can be excellent times to have teachers share new information and success stories about improving scores on their assessments. Principals can also try to oversee efforts to educate all teachers in the construction of their own assessments by:
- Striving for some degree consistency in assessment construction throughout the school
- Discouraging overuse of poor assessment tools (E.g., too much true-false)
- Convincing teachers to prepare all year for standardized testing through instruction rather than cramming
- Creating a school atmosphere where standardized testing is another important part of learning rather than life-or-death
- Stressing the importance of feedback after testing, which should include feedback on interpreting test items
- Having a plan in place to assist students who want extra help with testing to ask for it and receive it