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Thanks for the Test Scores!

March 26, 2010

Dear Teacher,

I just want to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me when I was in your class.  Now that I’m out of high school, I really appreciate it even more.  When I started your English class, I knew that my test scores were kind of low, and I was really committed to improving my performance on two of the subtests.  You saw that potential in me, and even more.  By providing me with chances to read anthologized literary excerpts and random workplace documents, all followed by multiple choice assessments, you showed a commitment to my learning, and my test scores that spring really proved how far I had come.  I was totally comfortable dealing with any readings chosen for me, and comfortable choosing the answers to other people’s questions.  I also remember that you showed us how to answer the questions without even doing most of the reading, and that sure did help on the test!

Do you remember my sister?  She was in your class a few years ahead of me, and I was just talking to her about your class.  She couldn’t even remember what her test scores were – probably because she usually has her nose in a book, when she’s not writing in her journals or on her blog.

My sister just graduated from college, but as for me, I don’t know if you heard, but I’ve taken a break from school.  I tried it for a year, but none of the instructors cared as much as you did, so it was hard to connect.  A lot of times they assigned us really long readings and didn’t even give us any points for doing all that homework.  Then, we had to write essays on these ridiculously hard questions where you couldn’t even find the answer in the books.  I did my best and put together my five paragraphs and everything, and I still got low grades.  When they don’t tell you how to find the answers and don’t even give you the motivation, well… it just wasn’t for me.  It’s just too bad that all those skills we practiced in your class don’t even seem to matter in college.  I think I might transfer to another school, but for now, I’m just working and waiting for inspiration to come along.

One more thing – I saw on the news that they’re going to start paying teachers more if your students do well on tests.  That should be good news for you!  And why not?  I definitely think you deserve it after all you did to raise our test scores.


Your former Proficient Student

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2010 12:34 pm

    Point well taken! Thank you for this!


  2. Elena Aguilar permalink
    March 26, 2010 6:25 pm

    I am really with you – and our many colleagues – on the critiques of high stakes testing, endless test-prep, linking teacher eval with test scores, etc. I’m with you.

    Sometimes, however, I wish our commentary included an occasional nod to or recognition of the benefits of doing some test prep. Many teachers act from our own experiences as student, and so I’ll be explicit about sharing mine on this topic because I often wish that I’d had one or two teachers who had taught me how to take a test. But because my mother couldn’t afford test-prep courses or manuals, and because I was only given tests and never any support in understanding the genre, I never learned how to effectively take them. I have pretty big test anxiety now, I am still fairly ineffective, and I’m embarrassed by my results on most exams – I know they don’t reflect what I know and can do, but still…And somehow, I keep having to take them (the CSET, now an administrator’s exam; it never seems to end).

    Whether for the purpose of getting a driver’s license or applying for grad school, test-taking is one of the many skills students need explicit instruction on–and beyond CSTs, there may be authentic reasons to take a test in their lives. As a teacher in Oakland, I taught test-taking skills (including how to manage anxiety) as just another tool to give kids a chance at having access to tools that kids from higher income families could afford to provide outside of the classroom. I’m already finding that I’m talking to my son about taking tests (he’s already having to do so in kindergarten) as playing a game – I tell him they can be fun. It can be a challenge. It’s a game. Of course, this skill prep shouldn’t dominate the curriculum or push out science and art…

    I know you probably don’t disagree with me, and I’m not accusing you of giving only one message – I just wanted to add this comment to the discussion, or remind teachers of this.


  3. David B. Cohen permalink*
    March 26, 2010 10:23 pm

    Joe – thanks for your comment.
    Elena – yes, I understand you’re adding another dimension to the issue rather than staking out an opposing viewpoint. My little satire started from the idea that students don’t really think this way, but what if they did? What if we gave them reason to? What if we totally bought in to the view of education that is so often pushed on us from outside – the idea that one totally inadequate test gives you the true measure of teaching and learning? And what if students really absorbed the lessons that would go along with that mindset? I’m afraid there may be some schools and teachers that have been pressed towards this kind of thinking, mainly due to the unreasonable consequences attached to the tests. I just exaggerated it to make a point.

  4. strategicteaching permalink
    March 28, 2010 9:43 am

    Hidden in your satire is a valuable approach to the state testing dilemma…use the content of your standards to develop higher level thinking and your students will do fine on the state tests.

    What is conventionally known as teaching to the test is a waste of time. Your students are most likely not going to do well on the test because they are functioning at a recall-short term level.

  5. Michele permalink
    March 28, 2010 10:48 am

    Thanks for the letter regarding the frightening attention given to test taking. May I suggest that if you are not satisfied with this focus, you get more involved than preaching to the choir. Day after day English teachers are bombarded with what they must do to help make their school more successful (translated – bring up the test scores). I can assure you, we are not happy and know that we are empowering you to not connect with higher thinking skills. In spite of our constant protests the issue comes from the top down. Obviously the interest in students’ success is at the bottom of ….

  6. David B. Cohen permalink*
    March 28, 2010 1:53 pm

    Strategicteaching – for my own situation as a high school English teacher, the state standards are not “content standards” but rather “skills standards” – what students must be able to do, not any particular content that they need to know. I certainly agree that strong performance in reading/language arts tests is actually more likely when we don’t focus on test prep, the reason being that test prep is pretty low level thinking. At high performing schools, at least those I’m familiar with, there is no test prep at all. I also visited a highly successful charter high school in South Central L.A. a couple years ago, and there was not a word about tests or test prep anywhere in the classrooms, though the school had posted some very impressive numbers.

    Michele – If you’re in a position where the English teachers are expected to raise reading scores on their own, make sure to point out that students read in almost every class, and that good reading skills can be part of any curriculum. In fact, I would say that if you’re a science teacher or history teacher and you’re not teaching students subject-specific reading skills, then you’re missing something important.

    Believe me, I’m doing more than preaching to the choir. Also, this is a relatively new blog, and one of our hopes is to attract non-teachers to read it, so if you would like to pass along a link to anyone outside our profession, that would be great!

    Fellow teachers, what are some ways that we amplify our voice to reach beyond the choir?

  7. March 28, 2010 1:57 pm


    Well ironied. I don’t think you’re preaching to the choir — last I heard the Internet reaches everyone with a web browser. Think viral, not print metaphors, Michele. And I know ACT is working on position papers that can be used to lobby those higher ups.

    Alena’s point is well taken — self-defense is a valid concern. If there’s a school out there that’s not yet practicing test-taking skills… gosh.

  8. patriciannc permalink
    April 2, 2010 5:45 am

    very much enjoyed reading this blog!! The stance on all sides is well taken and justified on all levels. It is definitely a complex issue, that needs thought and balance. TY to all.

  9. April 2, 2010 11:04 am

    Moral of the story: “Subtle” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

    Well done and deliciously incisive. Prepare to be shared…

  10. David B. Cohen permalink*
    April 8, 2010 10:37 pm

    John, Patricia, and Nancy –
    Thank you for your comments. It’s gratifying to know people are reading and appreciating what I write.

  11. April 13, 2010 4:28 pm

    Spot on.


  1. 574 » Blog Archive » Test Score Satire - New Media, Spring 2010, Western Illinois U
  2. Stop Homework » Teacher: Thanks for the Test Scores!

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