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When examination results are released, schools want to know how they have performed relative to others, especially their neighbours. Teachers too are eager to know how their candidates performed relative to the other teacher’s class. This is because the examinations are of high stake. And schools, teachers and learners compete against each other.
Competition therefore encourages teaching to the test or teaching to the item, which is a situations whereby teachers organize their instruction either around the actual items likely to be found on a test or around a set of look-alike items. During the last few weeks before examinations, lessons are reserved for revisions using previous years ‘question papers. This practice is locally called ‘spotting.’Some teachers are so good at it.
Is teaching to the test wrong?
Teaching to the test is not wrong but it’s bad. Despite teachers being well-trained in curriculum and instruction, they sometimes find themselves unwittingly practicing it because the system allows and encourages it. There are various reasons why teachers resort to this teaching strategy, ranging from congested curriculum, through high work load, inadequate resources, and high student/teacher ratio, to misuse of assessment outcomes.
When examinations results are used for purposes not related to the advancement of learning –such as teacher promotions or punishment, the ultimate loser is the system. Learning should result in permanent change in learners’ behaviour as a result of experience. Therefore, learners should not only acquire knowledge, but process it to generate new one.
Teachers therefore succumb to item-teaching because if they truly believe they are obliged to raise test scores. More often than not, those teachers are correct. Needless to say, assessment results should be appropriately used for the identification of the gaps or deficiencies and root cause for non-achievement of the intended outcomes.
In most cases, teaching to the test results in good grades, and that’s what most of us want to see. However, such scores are not a fair indicator of a student’s ability. Some students who master class materials study may not succeed in testing environments due to a lack of test-taking skills. This therefore means that, improvement in standardised tests result does not always represent students’ real level of skills, moreso that standardised tests are not a level playing field for students with different backgrounds, talents and learning styles. It follows therefore that inferences made from such scores are misleading.
Since such tests are based on rote procedures and memorized facts, resulting in everybody passing it, giving the impression that learners have mastered the content. This can be likened to a badly designed driving test, either written or practical, which does not sample all aspects of driving. Everybody will pass the test and the likely impact will be increase in avoidable road accidents, robbing the country of human capital. These road accidents are good evidence of the invalidity of the driving test.
On the contrary, teaching to the curriculum employs mastery learning using diagnostic test to gauge where their learners are at the start, and then administer summative tests at the end to determine how much they have learnt. Learners who pass through this instructional strategy develop life skills, critical thinking, problem solving, and are able to apply them to whatever real life situation they encounter. They may not pass with flying colours in the examinations because they are not test-wise, but they have learnt life skills which they will use throughout their lives. One business author, Robert Kiyosaki, captured it perfectly, when he titled his book:
‘’ Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students and “B” Students Work for the Government’’.
Yes, It’s Possible!