Last week, fellow Our Loudoun Schools blogger John Stevens posted a musical commentary on "teaching to the test." Similarly, I see the disastrous effects teaching to the AYP has on teachers and students every day in dozens of LCPS classrooms.
I've regularly said that "teaching to the test" isn't the problem, it's teaching to "wrong test" that is; I can avoid this issue with my students by still teaching to assessments, but assessments that evaluate greater depth of understanding and critical thinking. In doing this, my students would pass Virginia's SOLs as a minor consequence of their learning.
I may be naive.
About two years ago, the study "Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework" was published. It's conclusions are troubling.
Researchers Marc Schwartz and UVa's Robert Tai found that students "enrolled in introductory biology, chemistry or physics in randomly selected four-year colleges and universities [...] who spent one month or more studying one major topic in-depth in high school earned higher grades in college science than their peers who studied more topics in the same period of time." The students who were in courses that focused on mastering a particular topic were impacted twice as much as those in courses that touched on every major topic.
Here's the problem this study poses for my "better test" approach: as celeb teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher points out, the group of students in the study who participated in the higher standard approach actually scored poorly on state EOC standardized exams compared to those students who were in the classrooms where the focus was on those exams, where breadth was targeted over depth.
Since the only "learning" standard LCPS teachers are actually held to is their students' performances on SOLs, this presents a problem for those of us who think we will be allowed to remain public education teachers while focusing student learning on higher standards of critical thinking over shallow multiple choice regurgitation.
This is a nightly tossing-and-turning issue for me, but at least I can take some consolation in another major finding of the study, "that the students who learned through the slower, in-depth approach actually earned higher grades once they made it to college." Although, I am going to have to figure out how to grow my teaching to encompass this issue.
No problem for Loudoun County Public Schools, however: since LCPS only concerns itself with getting our students into college, not with what happens after June commencement exercises, there's no reason for anyone in Loudoun to lose sleep over this.