Do goals related to ACT results mean “teaching to the test?”

The quote below is from the book, Results Now, and it captures rather well what we believe is the essence of quality teaching. We worry sometimes, as we communicate about our goals around ACT test results, that parents will get the impression that we are “teaching to the test” in some superficial manner. This could not be further from the truth because real college and career readiness skills are not something that can be memorized, but rather application skills that must be practiced repeatedly with teacher feedback to produce improvement in students. For example, a considerable focus of college and career readiness learning in science is related to students being able to understand data and information presented in charts and graphs, and then using that information to solve a problem. The students are asked to demonstrate that they understand the data, what it is telling them and what it is not, and then apply it to a real world situation. It is pretty easy to see why this sort of learning makes students more prepared for college and careers of all sorts. With school goals related to learning that is not just about what they know (memorize), but also about what they can do to apply their learning, the ideas below about teaching become critical. Great teaching includes clear goals, and students can answer the questions; What are you learning? What will you have to do to demonstrate you understand? And, How will you know if you have done it well?

“…Let’s look at just one teacher to see the full power of good instruction. As a high school English instructor, Sean Connors took a position in the poorest, lowest-achieving high school in his community, where writing scores were the lowest in town and well below the state average. I watched him teach. He was clear, organized, and effective. But more to the point, he did nothing unusual—nothing any teacher couldn’t do or hasn’t already learned. He was clear about which writing standards he expected students to learn on any particular day. He showed them samples of the kind of work he expected, and had students analyze and discuss the samples. He explained and modeled each specific skill—with students’ involvement—on his overhead projector. He had students practice the new skills briefly in pairs, then individually while he circulated. He called on students randomly to share, so he could see if they were learning.”

Fundamentals of instruction that consistently produce meaningful learning results:

1. Clear learning goals that the students understand.

2. Progressive practice with quality feedback. (progressive = simple to more complex, and teacher modeled/guided, to working with peers, to doing it alone.)

3. Frequent use of samples of student work to illustrate various qualities of performance—and analyzing them with students so everyone understands what specifically makes increasingly quality work.

4. Constant checks for understanding with review discussions.