Dangers of Teaching-to-Test in English Classroom

Virginia Simone, Staff Writer

Spring semester is upon us, and testing is looming on the horizon. All core subjects have started preparation and review for the season of standardized testing, and English is no exception. The State Writing Window, a period of time when students are required to write an essay like that of the STAAR test, has officially been thrust open. As the breeze of scripted instructions begins to blow into the English classrooms, familiar grumbles can be heard from under the breaths of every student. Behind their glazed-over eyes, the question on their minds is the same:

“Why can’t we do something more interesting?”

Unfortunately, this is what the high school students of today think of when they picture writing. To them, it is nothing more than five paragraphs on a 26-line page.

Reading isn’t any better. The only book weighing down on most students’ shoulders is their required reading book. They dread the ten or so pages assigned to them every night and trudge through the questions that follow. This dull experience warps their views on what reading truly is and should be: a beautiful combination of the readers’ and writers’ imaginations, that, at the very least, entertains, and at the most, changes the lens through which the world is seen.

The State would argue that the current curriculum is structured to adequately prepare students for testing. However, the method of forcing students to write essays based on meaningless prompts and requiring them to read books they had no say in choosing has done more harm than good. Students have lost interest in the literary fields on which they are being tested, which has resulted in an unwillingness to engage in the practice of these fields on their own time. In addition, this has put pressure on teachers to revert to an undesirable, “teaching-to-the-test” method that pleases neither the teacher nor the student.

Incorporating self-selected reading and creative writing time into the classroom curriculum is the logical solution to this issue. In fact, 78 percent of Canyon students agree that they would read and write more if they were allowed to choose prompts and books that best suit their interests. In addition, nearly 93 percent of Canyon English teachers agree that instituting this type of time would improve their students’ skills and test scores. Therefore, by bringing these activities back into the curriculum, the State could ensure that students would build on their reading and writing abilities and in turn perform better on their tests.

The State would not be wrong in saying it’s important to read classics and develop the skills necessary to write a good essay. There is no denying the value of understanding the themes found in Fahrenheit 451 andThe Great Gatsby, or the applicability of expository writing to a successful career. These are essential to a young adult’s education, and should undoubtedly be taught in the classroom.

However, this should not be at the expense of other activities critical to a well-rounded and balanced education. By focusing the whole of class time on only one side of the coin, the State is depriving students of the other, no less significant side of creative expression. Free reading and writing don’t just build on testing skills, they also build on students’ self-awareness and understanding of the world around them. Research has shown that the practice of pleasure reading gives teenagers perspective into personal values, relationships, and identity, all of which aid them in developing their individuality and work to prepare them for adulthood. Furthermore, the expression of this perspective through creative writing allows students to explore their world in a safe space. By doing this, they are able to mature into thoughtful, complex young adults with the ability to express themselves through their words.

The State may have had high school students’ best interests at heart when they centered the curriculum around standardized tests. However, while there is no arguing the point that reading classics and writing expository essays plays a valuable role in preparing students for their future careers, the single-mindedness of the current curriculum has limited the potential of the English classes to have an impact on the other aspects of students’ lives. If the State can find room in class time for the inclusion of self-selected reading and creative writing, they will not only see an improvement in the test scores they prioritize, but also see a generation of mature young adults with a better idea of self and the world around them.