On Teaching to the Test (as the ILEARN window closes)

Published on May 26th, 2019

As I contemplate all about ILEARN as this year’s testing window is now closed, my son Matthew is finishing his studies for the Step One test as part of his medical school training.  Each day since April 15, Matt’s regimen is studying the content from his first two years of medical school in the mornings, and in the afternoons takes practice tests on particular fields of science and medicine (for example, on Mother’s Day, Matt studied Reproductive Science … through the arduous regimen, he’s not lost his humor!).  In the evenings he studies content that he missed on the sample test items.  This Friday he takes the final test on science and medical content (read on to find out it is hardly final) that will open the door to his residency which begins in two years.

His entire program is based upon medical standards for professional conduct, health promotion, disease prevention, and modes of therapy.  Everything from his first two years of study, to Step One exams, internship rounds, then Step Two clinical assessments, Step Three licensing boards, and finally residency target facets of the medical profession aligned with standards of the profession and specialties.

Web-based tutorials and practice test items are required aspects of his training.  From regimen now to rigor, the Step One exam is divided into seven sixty-minute blocks administered in one eight-hour testing session.  I’m sure Matt doesn’t even want to think about the time allotted to Step Two and Three boards, I guess they take these, shall I say, one step at a time?

What about our profession?  All of Matt’s training focused on the tests.  The tests will qualify Matt as an MD.  His professors, web-based training, classroom and hospital instruction, practice testing, and Steps all will combine to make Matt a knowledgeable medical doctor.  If medicine can serve as a metaphor, or better yet, a model, shouldn’t k-12 teachers “teach to the test,” one step at a time as illustrated above?

The Department of Education in Indiana has established standards of performance in our field of education.  Does it make sense for teachers for aimlessly delve into broad subjects for a year, or is it justifiable to be surgical in our instruction and therapeutic in our differentiation in the pursuit of knowledge deemed necessary for students at a particular grade level?  If you don’t trust the standards, then you might opt for the former; that would elevate your professional opinion above the standards.  If you agree that the standards at least begin to address what is necessary for k-12 students, then take a lesson from Matt’s training, and by all means, feel quite free to teach to the standards.  That is what professionals do!

Perhaps the end of the school year is the wrong time to push the validity of teaching to the test.  I wanted to address the matter while your ILEARN experience is fresh in your mind.  The ideal time for ILEARN triage is course August, when school begins.  At that time I’ll be able to tell you how successful teaching to the test was to Matt’s approaching career.  And I will encourage you again at the time to teach to the test.  In the meantime, Good Luck and God’s Blessings, Matt!