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Arkansas State University

How to Avoid Teaching to the Test

It has become increasingly common to hear about teachers “teaching to the test.” But what does that mean? In short, teaching to the test means that teachers focus on specific items in order to ensure that their students achieve higher scores during standardized tests. While it is understandable that teachers may feel pressure for their students to perform well, the problem with teaching to the test is that this method of instruction does not correctly gauge a student’s understanding of a subject.

Additionally, the practice of teaching to the test does not provide students with a full understanding of a topic. By only focusing on specific items within a particular subject, a teacher is providing a narrow window to the information and may be overlooking important concepts or ideas that are necessary for student comprehension.

Candidates pursuing an online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree will study how to design curriculum that conveys a larger body of knowledge, while giving students the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in testing situations.

Just Say “No” to Item-Teaching

As a teacher operating in today’s educational system, it is important to understand why teaching to the test is a negative practice. While it may be tempting to teach the memorization of specific vocabulary words or math problems — knowing that they will show up on the test — this practice, called “item-teaching,” does not increase a student’s overall knowledge base. Many consider this practice unethical, as it deprives students of understanding broader concepts and ideas.

Embrace Curriculum Teaching

On the flip side, teachers who practice “curriculum teaching” focus on a wide range of skills and concepts within a particular subject. Thus, students receive instruction that allows them to fully understand an area of study. This practice supports more sophisticated cognitive development and problem solving as opposed to the drill-like memorization of item-teaching.

Though teaching to the test has surfaced as an unfortunate reality in some school systems, teachers should avoid it at all costs. Not only does it warp the validity of tests, it also presents our students with the short end of the educational stick. It is a short-term, narrow solution that does not prepare students for the world outside of the classroom. Students enrolled in an online master’s in education program will not only learn the pitfalls of item-teaching but also the tools to empower our nation’s children with the well-rounded instruction that they deserve.

Learn more about the Arkansas State online MSE in Curriculum & Instruction program.


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