Are standardized tests failing our children? Are these tests truly improving instruction or are they forcing teachers to merely "teach to the test"? With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, critics of standardized tests lament that teachers are now being compelled to do just that. The temptation to teach students to do well on standardized tests is almost unavoidable when performance on such tests is how entire school systems are evaluated.
Testing supporter President Bush said, if we are teaching math and reading, teaching to math and reading tests makes sense. However, math and reading include many distinct skills. If a test gauges only a few of those skills deemed as important; are teachers only emphasizing those skills that are being tested, possibly ignoring other skills that are just as important? For example, San Antonio, Texas fifth-grade teacher Teddi Beam-Conroy used to liven up her history lessons on the Colonies by having her students do simulations to better understand the concept of being "colonized" (Beam-Conroy). Now such special projects are an unaffordable luxury. Teachers are too busy prepping students for the state-mandated tests.
States have mostly failed to keep a balance between test questions and standards. Many state reading tests emphasize identification of details, not the main idea. Educators call identifying details a "basic skill." Recognizing a main idea is a "higher-order skill." Teachers preparing for tests made up of mostly basic skills will not do to much to train students in higher-order thinking.
Many people argue that if test scores are low, basic skills should be a priority. After all, it seems students should master the basics first. However, good teaching should let basic and higher skills reinforce one another. A student need not perfect an ability to recall details before learning to summarize a main idea.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains that in a strong accountability system, the curriculum is driven by academic standards, and annual tests are tied to the standards.