“Teaching to the test”, that is teaching only material that is likely to be in the test, has become very common wherever standardised teaching is introduced. A survey of US teachers found that 84 percent of them believed the NCLB Act was encouraging teachers to “teach to the test”, 85 percent admitted to spending a lot of time teaching “content that I know will be on the state/district test” and 78 percent admitted spending “a lot of time teaching my students test-taking skills”.
A federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that teaching to the test was particularly damaging to bright students in poor schools where teachers focus on lower performing children to make sure they will pass the tests. Those who can easily pass the tests are neglected so they don’t fulfil their full potential. In the UK, too,
Testing dominates the curriculum, and teaching to the test has become the norm. Schools strive to reach their set pupil attainment targets with a battery of preparatory tests and ‘booster’ classes for those just below the threshold. The English primary system was once celebrated world wide for its creative child-centred approach. Now the focus on ‘the basics,’ driven by government programmes for literacy and numeracy, rigidly prescribe both programme content and methodology for much for the primary school day.
A University of Melbourne survey of 8353 Australian teachers and principals in 2012 found 70 per cent said they taught to the test and 69 per cent said the national numueracy and literacy tests (NAPLAN) "had led to a reduction in the time they spent teaching subjects that were not tested". Almost 40 percent held weekly practice tests in the five months leading up to the national tests.
The emphasis on accountability through testing means that activities and benefits that can be achieved in the short-term and quantified have become paramount and non-economic measures and unmeasurable benefits no longer important. The focus is on achievement rather than learning.
Performance-based assessments that involve doing projects, essays, science experiments and reports have become undervalued, even though they are far more important to learning. These include:
Instead of aiding their students to develop their potential teachers help them to remember the authorised knowledge modules for long enough to pass the test. The emphasis on this shopping list of knowledge leads to the teaching of grammar and spelling as technical skills to be mastered, rather than a means of self-expression and understanding of others.
If you have any examples or updates you would like to contribute please email them to me and I will add them here. Please give references for where you sourced the information.