The Standardized Testing Culture

Social Studies Inquiry Project


Compelling Question:

How can teachers avoid "teaching to the test"?

Supporting Questions:

What is the purpose of standardized testing?

What are the negative impacts of "teaching to the test"?


  • The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law changed the way the Federal government was involved with the public education system beginning in 2002.
  • While it was not the first piece of legislature to regulate the public education system, it did increase the federal government’s role in holding public schools accountable for student achievement.
  • The bi-partisan law was aimed at closing achievement gaps with disadvantaged students as compared to their affluent peers and increasing the quality of the American education system on a global scale; however, since the law was enacted it has made an unprecedented negative impact on education especially in concerns with standardized testing.
  • Many stipulations of the law require students to be tested yearly in multiple subjects as a way to collect data and see how successful a school is doing; the tests are mandated state by state.
  • Unfortunately, since a lot is riding on students’ performance on the tests, teachers have particularly felt the pressure and some have fallen to “teaching to the test” in order to protect their jobs and have it seem like their students are successful.
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The "teaching to the test" mentality is hurting students and not allowing them to receive a well-rounded education. There is a lot of time, energy, and money devoted solely to preparing students for standardized testing. Unfortunately, those skills cannot be applied to the real-world. In addition, programs are being cut like recess, the arts, electives, and other programs that are deemed unnecessary in order to make more time for “academic” instructional time. Lastly, the results of the tests don't necessarily correlate with adequate instruction. In fact, the discrepancies between the test results are usually non-instructional factors when compared between districts.
Prepare Our Kids for Life, Not Standardized Tests | Ted Dintersmith | TEDxFargo

What I Learned

  • There is not a clear cut solution to the problem at hand.
  • There is a need for data collection but standardized tests are not the only nor best option.
  • Teachers don't necessarily "teach to the test" because they lazy. They do so because they have pressure to perform and aren't adequately prepared to prepare their students.
  • English Language Learners and underprivileged students are at a major disadvantage with standardized tests.
  • Teachers, community members, administrators, etc. need to lobby their local and state politicians to change the testing culture.


As I have stated above, there is not clear cut solution to the testing problem as I had initially thought there would be. The best ways in which a teacher can combat "teaching to the test" is to maintain as much normalcy in their classroom as possible. For example, do not take away recess or limit other academic subjects in order to have more time for test prep. Teachers need to integrate testable material into real-world applications. Teachers should also do their part to change the testing culture by contacting local and state politicians with the issues they have with the testing and citing specific examples of its flaws. Lastly, teachers should create a portfolio for their students collecting the work they did at the beginning of the year to the end. This portfolio would serve as a way for the students to see how much they have improved as the school year progressed. My recommendations are small ways that classroom teachers can hopefully impart a meaningful change to the "teaching to the test" mentality.

Works Cited

  • Kohn, A. (2000b). The case against standardized testing: Raising the scores, ruining the schools. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.
  • Popham, W. J. (1999). Why standardized tests don’t measure educational quality. Educational Leadership, 56, 8-15.