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Teaching to the Test July 7, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education.
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A recent study of achievement in college courses by Scott Carrell and James West suggests that teaching to the test does not produce long-term learning. They draw their sample from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Students are randomly assigned to professors in a variety of introductory and upper division courses and all sections of each course have identical syllabi and exams. Here is their conclusion:

Our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value added, but positively correlated with follow-on course value-added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a Ph.D. perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course, but perform worse in the follow-on related curriculum.

The authors hypothesize about the mechanisms at work here:

One potential explanation for our results is that the less-experienced professors may teach more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, while the more experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material….Another potential mechanism is that students may learn (good or bad) study habits depending on the manner in which their introductory course is taught. For example, introductory professors who “teach to the test” may induce students to exert less study effort in follow-on related courses.

Results like this, if confirmed in subsequent studies, may explain why policies like “No Child Left Behind” don’t work. The high-stakes testing regimes that have been implemented in K-12 tend to produce high test scores in the early grades but those gains are lost as students advance to higher grades. The problem is that the early gains are illusory—they are not gains in skill or understanding but simply reflect how well students learned material designed to produce a test score.

This is not education.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Asur - July 14, 2010

I could not agree with you more.

Learning the How without also acquiring the Why leads to a fragmented, unconnected body of knowledge and hence understanding/intellect.

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