Test Prep in Education – Current Connections

Kortez tackles the issues surrounding test prep in chapter 7 of his book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. In this section, he goes into detail about the negative effects of preparing for exams in schools. He underscores that there is line between test prep and teaching that often is overlapping. The author identifies with a strong ideology of pushing for better education for children that will adequately prepare them for real life. Kortez uses a multitude of examples to portray his ideas on the types of test prep, their effects, and the fine line between this practice and the corruption of education. 

Kortez first identifies the three types of bad test prep: reallocation between subjects, reallocation within a subject, and coaching. Reallocation between subjects essentially is when an educator distributes time to subjects based on their relevance on the standardized tests. Teachers spend more time on the subjects that are tested, while taking away valuable classroom instruction for other areas. This sometimes leads to the elimination of various subjects. I have experienced reallocation between subjects during my secondary school days. My high school would allot more time and resources towards subjects like math, science, and english, while eliminating some from various courses like art, band, and orchestra. This is because our state tests did not assess these concepts, so they did not prioritize them. Reallocation within a subject happens when a teacher focuses on the material in each  area that often appears on the exams. This involves the elimination of certain sections of a chapter or entire chapters altogether. Students must learn what is emphasized on the test, while leaving out the other information that these assessments tend to avoid. As I went on to higher level math, I noticed that these gaps in my knowledge from omitted sections created great challenges for me to fully understand various concepts. Coaching is when a teacher focuses on the insignificant details of a test. This includes the format and presentation of the questions. The tips and tricks can often not be applied in the real-world. An example is teaching children common pythagorean triples, instead of providing them with the knowledge on how to solve such math problems. I have also experienced coaching in my years as a student. Reallocation within a subject and coaching were most prominent in math courses in my experience which may be the reason as to why so many students struggle with mathematics in our current system. They are not given the chance to understand mathematical concepts entirely and are simply given certain techniques because it is easier and will help them achieve higher scores on the test. In my opinion, this is unfair, unnecessary and borderline immoral.

Kortez also includes the theme of morality in test prep. He poses the question of when this preparation becomes cheating. Some educators teach only what is on the assessments so their scores only showcase the positive results of this, while in actuality they are omitting other necessary information from their lessons plans. Therefore, each child is not given the educational experience they need. The question of whether these fraudulent improvements born out of bad test prep should be considered cheating is highly debated. Many educators see no issue with this preparation which only makes matters worse. Furthermore, many want educational reform, but their jobs depend on good test scores, thus encouraging a variety of teachers to use these undesirable techniques. Good instruction has become corrupted by this test preparation that is plaguing schools. A positive score on an assessment has been used to mark whether a teacher is good or not. Educators have begun to believe that a student’s current and future success can be predicted by their score on these tests. Young teachers are set up to inflate their students’ test scores, while inadequately preparing the young adults for the real world. In addition, Kortez exclaims, “So one would expect that test preparation would be a more severe problem in schools serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students, and it is”(Kortez, 2017). Kortez points out that unfortunately these inappropriate tactics are usually only applied to disadvantaged children, thus creating inequity in the educational sector. 

I do not blame the teachers for their need to teach to the test. They feel forced to because their jobs depend on high test scores. I put blame on the outside source that is creating these high stakes tests and not acknowledging the issues that have come about due to these assessments. One teacher going against the grain will not be enough. There needs to be an educational reform that reduces or eliminates testing which will involve the majority of educators. This will cause a chain reaction in the education system. The tests will carry less weight in schools so administrators will feel less pressure to provide high test scores in order to draw in more students. This will lead to teachers relinquishing their need to teach to the test because their jobs will not rely on it, and most importantly, the students will hopefully receive a more advantageous education that will adequately prepare them for real life.

My current connections article this week was the piece,“Standardized tests should not be required,” by Alanna Joachim , a student at the University of Massachusetts. This article was published this year in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Joachim highlights the fact that standardized tests have become optional for possible first year students in colleges due to the issues and risks associated with the CoronaVirus. This elimination has forced universities to examine how they are evaluating students if not by their ACT or SAT scores. I chose this article because it aligns with Kortez’s thoughts on testing and the unnecessary emphasis placed on assessments.

Connecting my current connections piece to this week’s chapter, Joachim affirms, “Standardized testing teaches students to learn how to take a test, not to absorb new information and use it to problem solve” (Joachim, 2021). This is similar to the concept of coaching as described in chapter 7. In current times, people are so concerned with receiving high test scores that they simply only provide children with quick tricks on how to do better on such exams, rather than giving them useful information. There is no true real life application to these techniques that scholars are provided so educational facilities are failing them in this mannerr. High stakes assessments lead to great stress for students. As described by Joachim, scholars feel as if they are reduced to a number or score when applying for college because the ACT and SAT are so greatly emphasized in schools today. She includes a call to action for schools to not see students in this manner and to reduce the strong emphasis on testing. 

In addition, Joachim also touches on the fact that individuals who are not financially stable tend to struggle more with these exams. They can not receive the extra help that many students pay for. In addition, they usually lack the funds needed to take the exams multiple times in order to receive their desired score. This connects to the inequity in education that was discussed in Kortez’s book. Those that are already disadvantaged continue to be negatively affected by these exams, thus making them unfair. Furthermore, Valarie Strauss from the Washington Post discusses how the wealthy actually go as far as to pay for higher scores or to be given advantages to achieve these desired results in her article, “Is it Finally Time to get rid of the ACT and SAT College Admissions Test.” This is illegal; however, it is the reality of the education system. These three pieces show evidence of underprivileged children being maltreated in the academic sector. 

For my presentation, I created a google slideshow. This allowed me to present visualizes for my classmates so they could retain the information better in order to have a more informed class discussion. I first summarized the article, then I pointed out the two aforementioned connections to Kortez’s piece. This lead into a group discussion. The questions were supposed to be presented in a kahoot so we could see the overall opinions of the class by what they voted for on each inquiry, but the program did not operate properly so I had to stick to simply asking my audience questions and taking responses. However, I was very pleased with the discussion I was able to have. I first questioned if anyone had ever felt reduced to a test score and how this impacted them academically and emotionally. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of my classmates did not feel that they had ever been labeled as a percent or grade because they went to schools who placed less emphasis on testing. However, I did come to find that many people shared this experience with me. The idea that individuals who scored well on exams like the ACT and SAT were known for this was brought up. Although it is a great achievement to do well on these exams, I feel that it is wrong to label anyone as simply a number or percent. This is very dehumanizing and only adds to the stress of these assessments. My classmates seemed to agree with this point of view. I then asked if they agreed or disagreed with the elimination of the ACT or SAT and what schools should do in place of them. The majority of the group agreed that these tests should be eliminated; however, what colleges should use in place of these exams proved to be a harder question. The solution proposed that I agreed with most was Dr. Shutkin’s idea of the creation of portfolios. The assigned chapter first suggested these projects, but touched on the fact that they were hard to grade because there was not a consistent scale. Dr. Shutkin built off this concept and suggested that each person would have an interview to show their portfolio in order to showcase their achievements throughout high school. I felt that this was a reasonable and interesting proposal. Portfolios would eliminate the bad test preps, as well as allow interleaving learning to prosper. My final question was how these concepts connected to the previous week’s piece on Neoliberalism in Education. Emma was able to provide the opposing side, showing the benefits of the marketization in testing. I presented the connection of how the poor people are continuously disadvantaged in education. This was a strong theme in Blakely’s piece, “How School Choice Turns Education into a Commodity.” In addition it was emphasized in the final paragraph of chapter 7, as well as in my current connections article. Overall, I felt that my classmates and I had a successful discussion. They gave me new perspectives, ideas, and proposals, while I hopefully provided them with useful information on what is going on in education today. The wise words of my classmates gives me hope for a better future in academics.

References

Blakely, J. 2017, 17 April. How School Choice Turns Education into a Commodity. The Atlantic. 

Joachim, A. (n.d.). Standardized tests should not be required. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from 

https://dailycollegian.com/2020/09/standardized-tests-should-not-be-required/

Koretz, D. (2017). The testing charade: pretending to make schools better. Chapter 7, Test Prep. pp. 93-118. Chicago; London: The 

University of Chicago Press.

Strauss, V. (2019, March 19). Analysis | is it finally time to get rid of the SAT and ACT college ADMISSIONS tests? Retrieved

March 03, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/03/19/is-it-finally-time-get-rid-sat-act-college-

admissions-tests/

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