Friday, April 25, 2014

What Test Prep Is Not

I've noticed a meme in writing promoting CCSS tests lately in which fans promote the New Improved Test's ability to dig deep into the furthest thinky places of the human brain. "It's the end of the old bubble test," these enthusiastic testinators declaim. "No more of that test prep." Here. Here. And here.

And then, as sort of a rhetorical bank shot, they slip in what "test prep" means to them, and it's generally defined as it is here, in this fairly direct example included in New York's recently-released FAQ guide to Corporate Baloney Talking Points About Testing:

Do Common Core tests require excessive or rote standardized test preparation?
No. NYSED discourages rote standardized test preparation, which takes time away from learning. The best preparation for testing is good teaching.

Got that? "Test prep" here and elsewhere is defined as rote memorization. And it's swell that we're going to stamp it out-- except that "test prep" hasn't meant rote memorization since your great-grandfather invented dirt!

We've been doing hard core test prep ever since No Child Left Behind was a pup, and it has NOT consisted of rote learning or memorization. It has consisted of learning how to perform the specific cockamamie tasks favored by the designers of the various state-level assessments.

We have covered "How To Spot the Fake Answers Put There To Fool You." We've discussed "Questions About Context Clues Mean You Must Ignore What You Think You Know." We've discussed how open-ended questions require counting skills (the answer to any question that includes "Give three reasons that..." just requires a full three reasons of anything at all, but give three). For lower-function students, we covered such basics as "Read All Four Answers Before You Pick One."

We have pushed aside old literary forms like "short stories" and "novels" in favor of "reading selections"-- one-page-sized chunks of boring contextless pablum which nobody reads in real life, but everybody reads on standardized tests. We have taught them to always use big words like "plethora" on their essay answers, and to always fill up the whole essay page, no matter what repetitive gibberish is requires. We have taught them to always rewrite the prompt as their topic sentence. In PA, we have taught them what sort of crazy possible meaning the test-writers might have assigned to the words "tone" and "mood."

Like the Test Prep Titans of the SAT world (who will not be going out of business any time soon, no matter what David Coleman says), we have not had our students rotely memorize a thing. We have simply tried to prepare them to travel from the Land of Education to the planet Crazy Baloney, where everything operates according to different laws of sense and physics.

Still, it is technically correct that the new CCSS Tests will not require memorization, just as we will also not demand that students ride to school on their pennyfarthings and take the test with self-sharpened quills. Once again, Reformistas have rushed in to solve a problem that we don't have.

But test prep? We'll certainly doing that, like a boss, all day, hard, because our jobs and our students' futures depend on this newest trip to Crazy Baloney. Memorization won't help them a bit. Unfortunately, neither will a good education, critical thinking, and great reading and writing skills. The New CCSS Tests test exactly what the Old NCLB Tests tested-- the students' ability to take a high stakes poorly designed unvalidated craptastic standardized test. And as long as that's what we're testing, we will be test prepping until we can't pedal our pennyfarthings another inch.

1 comment:

  1. Corollary: Many teachers will be doing "stamina testing," regularly testing their students to build up their students' test taking stamina (friend o' grit?) It's not enough to condition students to think like the test maker; you have to condition them to be able to slog through the test instead of curling up under the desk in fetal position or randomly bubbling like a madman in an effort to be First. I've already seen it in action.