Teaching to the Test, Part Two

I think bucking the standards/testing paradigm is not viable. I do think 1st grade is a more important time to build a broad base of knowledge and to learn that learning is fun than to ace some standardized test. But I don’t want to be the one trying to argue that point to parents and administrators.

It seems to me that most people think there are only two choices: ignore testing or build the year around testing. I don’t like either of those options. My idea is to embrace essentialism as surgically as possible and teach exactly to the test as a subset of the daily activity. Hopefully, by defining this part of the annual learning obligation so narrowly and deliberately, time is freed up in the day to do much of the ‘yummy stuff’ that might get pushed aside in a more classic, full time essentialist curriculum.

I’ve been trying to teach the kids that testing is like football or performing on stage, it’s a fun challenge and it’s something where practice improves outcomes. It’s something that can be embraced.

I hope and intend that this strategy ends up with great test results and kids who think education is more than the black and white of No. 2 pencils and answer sheets. I hope that they’ll do great on the tests, have a broad education, and believe that education is as joyful as life.

I can’t take credit for the idea, although it is exactly my style. I first encountered it in the books of Rafe Esquith. He’s pretty much my role model.


Esquith, R. (2003). There are no shortcuts. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire: The methods and madness inside room 56. New York, NY: Viking.

Esquith, R. (2009). Lighting their fires: Raising extraordinary children in a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. New York, NY: Viking Adult.

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