Letter: Teaching not testing

As someone who intends to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher, I have been following the News’ recent series of articles about education reform hoping I would see a great change starting to take shape. Although I am very excited to see that reform is moving ahead in the city, I am frightened by some implications of John DeStefano’s plan, especially its emphasis on testing.

The proposed reform sets many ambitious goals, including reducing the dropout rate, eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring all students graduate high school and college. But unless evaluative policies are changed, completion in five years is likely impossible.

DeStefano’s plan to evaluate schools and teachers based on student performance is flawed. In public schools in Texas, for instance, an emphasis on testing improved achievement scores but did not change the number students who failed or dropped out. In addition, a 2005 study showed that teachers responded to the Texas Accountability System by using “educational triage,” — diverting resources based on how likely they thought a student was to pass the test.

It worries me that this system may be implemented in our schools, leading teachers to become so concerned about their jobs that they begin to focus solely on test results. “Teaching to the test” is a prevalent strategy in schools already; telling teachers they are only as good as their student’s scores will just make the problem worse.

I understand that demands on policy makers in education are great, and that the government wants to see immediate results, but emphasizing test scores will take us backward. I hope that when the New Haven team gathers to make more decisions on school reform, they understand the problems of testing so that they may make the best choices for students, teachers and schools.

Gina Grasso

Jan. 30

The writer is a senior in Pierson College.


  • Goose-Stepping to the 4T’s

    I hope against hope that your opinion prevails. Replacing the 3R’s with the 4T’s (Teach to the Test) is the central strategy of Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama, who control the billions in funds which Mr. deStefano and the rest of the bureaucrats in the nation are goose-stepping toward.

    Teaching to the test, as you correctly imply, is the death of spontaneity in the classroom.

    Listen carefull to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s public utterances. They are carefully canned responses (not carefully enough since he occasionally mixes up “infer’ and “imply”). he is a model of the goose-stepping robotic test-taker which his system will produce.

    Pray for a one-term presidency.

    Paul Keane
    M.Div. ’80

  • Raise children not test scores

    P.S. The best thing you could do is take the last line of Susan Engel’s NYT Op-Ed piece today (Playing to Learn) and turn it into a tee-shirt: RAISE CHILDREN NOT TEST SCORES!


  • FailBoat

    At least if they teach to the test, the students will learn SOMETHING.

    I agree that teaching to the test should not be the end goal of a school. But there have to be ways to ensure that students go to college knowing how to read.

  • Hieronymus

    Brava, Ms. Grasso! A fine application of a good education.

    I can already hear someone, somewhere, grumbling about patriarchal oppression and that one shouldn’t “waste” a Yale slot on an elementary-school teacher, but I, for one, find your calling to be of those among the greatest importance. Further, from what I have experienced, elementary (and high) school teaching could certainly bear a few more Yale graduates.


  • YWC ’11

    Why do some people persist in perpetuating outdated stereotypes? A Yale woman should be able to pursue the same professions as men, and yet we see only Yale women entering education. Could it be that they’ve been beat down by society into thinking the only professions they can have are ones that employ their supposedly nurturing tendencies?

    UCS should really re-evaluate their outreach to young women interested in a professional career.

  • Second that!

    I second Hieronymus: A noble profession. Two ways to immediately improve society: Double the salaries of teachers and police and attract more impressive candidates,gradually phasing out the dead weight.


  • @#5

    While I suspect you’re a troll (as I doubt anyone from the Women’s Center would lend any credence to such a view), I’ll respond just in case…

    That is patently false. I know several of my male classmates who plan to go into teaching.

    Moreover, I agree with Hieronymus on this one– teaching is itself a profession, and one can (or ought to be able to in a society that values education) make a professional career out of teaching. Perhaps if more Yalies went into teaching, we could be assured that our children were receiving a quality education without wasting so much time on standardized tests.

  • πῦρ ῤωμαϊκὸν

    Our education system is increasingly expected to produce a uniform product – that’s the real problem with the system. I’m all for trying to educate children (and I recognize the need for an objective measurement to determine effectiveness), but we need to understand that each should work to his abilities.

    That’s not to say that literacy and proficiency targets are misguided. We should naturally try to ensure a minimum standard of proficiency. Where we went wrong was in instituting rigid curriculum guidelines in the hopes of these minimum standards. In my experience, such rigidity frustrates and alienates the best teachers while boring the brightest students. We need fewer, not more national standards. Standards should be left up to local districts. If they’re not up to the task, its doubtful they’ll be able to meet national standards anyway.

    Some other good solutions:

    1.) Destroy the power of teachers unions and institute performance-based pay (even if its base on administrators subjective evaluations).

    2.)CHARTER SCHOOLS: Give people a choice and the public school system’s stranglehold will break. Choice will force public schools to get serious about their performance.

  • Seamus Matteo

    How about adding MORE (not less) National Standardized Testing & eliminating regular in-school testing/grading altogether, forthwith……It, unfortunately, has morphed into an anxiety-producing, subjective excercise of futility purveyed by the anal retentative in order to assemble self-aggrandizing statistical data…..Becoming more & more of an anochronism before our very eyes….A true drag on the system eating up hours of people-power via its educationally disruptive & inefficient nature……Let’s just let the Feds issue & grade this stuff; then the rest of those noble folks within the teaching profession could just get back into the purity of teaching ideas/concepts/skills exclusively (to-THE-test of course) via dispensing with these old-fashioned formalities (like yesterday!).

  • @7

    Ah yes. Anyone who questions the status quo is a “troll” now. I see.