Beware of the Test Prep Trap

Originally posted at Newsela.com.

Editor’s Note: Many teachers say that the need to prepare students for standardized tests is a significant barrier to using Project Based Learning. In this guest post, the co-founder of Understanding by Design explains how to rethink “test prep” to make room for deeper learning such as PBL. Part two of this article will be posted on Wed. April 5, 2017, at the end of which all citations will be listed.

In this era of accountability, educators throughout the nation are under pressure. Administrators are held accountable for student achievement in their schools as gauged by standardized tests. Increasingly, teachers’ evaluations include a percentage based on the results of test scores (at least in the tested grades and subjects). In some states, a school can be “reconstituted” if standardized assessment results do not improve over time. And in many communities, the test scores for a district or a school affect real estate values within their boundaries. Not surprisingly, these factors lead teachers and administrators to pay close attention to the results of external tests and strive to improve them. One consequence of this high-stakes accountability system is the increased use of “test prep” in the classroom; i.e., where teachers spend time focusing primarily on the tested content while giving students lots of practice with the test format (primarily multiple choice).