Reposted from the Shanker Blog:
Making the test the curriculum harms all students, but it does the most harm to those with the lowest skills. When I taught seniors in the Bronx, I worked with the highest-performing students who had already passed all their exams to help prepare them for the rigorous reading and writing they would face in college. We read philosophical and theoretical works ranging from Kant to Rawls to Nozick, and wrote and revised college-level argumentative essays. Though the Common Core was a far-off whisper at that point, my course far exceeded its demands, even if all my students could not yet meet them.
At the same time, I worked with the lowest-performing students who had yet to pass the New York State Regents. With them, I focused on mindless repetition of the facts that make up most of the Regents, and combined it with writing formulaic, timed essays that bore little resemblance to any real academic, civic, or career-based writing. I was really good at it, getting 100 percent to pass their exams in my final year leading Regents prep.
But I was doing my students no favors. I think to this day about T., a second-semester senior who could hardly write and struggled to read. In “Regents Prep Class” I worked with her on rote memorization rather than improving the reading, writing and thinking skills she would need for the rest of her life. The incentives were all wrong; sure, she passed the test, but she was still not ready for the community college work she encountered that fall. When we focus our efforts only on helping struggling students jump over the hurdle of mandated exams, the learning and opportunity gap widens.