Important Ways Assessment in the Classroom Impacts Testing and Curriculum

Assessment has become a central part of education. While lifelong learning should always be the main focus of a classroom, the pervasive knowledge that at some point, there will be testing, from the local scale to the national, has also become a backdrop in curriculum development.

Standardized testing has long been part of the K–12 scene, but since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, student results have been used by the federal and state governments to determine the level of funding schools receive. The salaries and job security of teachers and administrators are also determined, at least in part, by the results of student achievement on standardized tests. As a result, a “teaching to the test” mentality has emerged in public schools throughout the country. The benefit to curriculum and lesson plans that focus heavily on anticipated test material is that a core standard for all students is established. The particular skills that are deemed most important are targeted, providing a blueprint for what students throughout the country should be learning.

The Center for Public Education, however, notes that the pitfalls of basing curriculum and in-class lessons on standardized testing are wide-ranging. When a narrow scope is applied to what is taught in K–12 classrooms, other valuable lessons are excluded. There is also the issue of spending too much time prepping for the test itself and learning test-taking skills during time that could be devoted to broadening an actual knowledge base.

In a best-case scenario, individual schools would base curriculum and instruction decisions on the performance of their particular student body on standardized testing. This does not mean excluding information that is relevant but may not appear in a multiple-choice format; it means taking a look at the broader areas where a student population suffers and finding ways to strengthen them. If a school or district sees lower math scores than average, it should consider that a sign that stronger math initiatives need to take place across the board. As such, standardized testing should be seen as an aid in curriculum development and modification, but not the entire teaching plan.

Figuring out how to make assessment and curriculum work synergistically is still a work in progress. As an educator, it will be a responsibility of yours to be a part of the effort. Talk to the other teachers in your district to see what’s working and what’s not. Put ideas to the test, and keep honing in on what yields the best results for your students.

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