Walking through the hallway with my principal one afternoon several years ago after our state test scores were released, my principal asked me "Why are the reading and writing scores so much better? What is your department doing?"
As an educator who has long been an opponent of the "teach to the test" approach to teaching and learning, I was, honestly, not incredibly happy to hear this question asked of me. My reply-- "we taught our hearts out." She probed for more information--"surely you had a technique or strategy that helped the scores be better?"
Perhaps we did, but that strategy was not test prep! Our department utilized Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to plan instruction, study student work, and make adjustments to our approach so we could keep teenagers engaged and interested in learning. We had a system of grade level teams and each team focused on the needs and interests of the students on those teams. We also had many young and new teachers who kept all of us on our toes and learning new and relevant strategies. A nice balance of classic and contemporary print and non-print texts were key; we typically paired texts. Text based discussions were integral to helping students write better. When we taught writing, we focused on real audiences and specific instructional strategies we knew would help our students think more and write better.
We taught the standards and we used the formative assessment process to make adjustments, but we always focused on issues, ideas and humanity in the informational texts, literature, music and film that our students enjoyed.
In Kentucky today, educators, parents, community members, and members of the media are discussing the release of state test scores. For the second time, students in our state were assessed over the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. It is my deep hope that if administrators ask teachers today what they did to impact test scores (shudder at this question--but know it's a reality), teachers will feel confident in saying "we taught our hearts out." And that the test prep we all hate so much will not be a stronger focus in schools where the test results are not what people want them to be. Because, didn't we all get into this profession to impact lives, to have discussions about issues, ideas, the world and humanity?