Just read Accountability, Yes. Teaching to the Test, No by Patricia Deubel and have some thoughts. Deubel wrote that before NCLB, many teachers closed their doors and taught what they wanted. There was little accountability on what was taught. However, with NCLB, the pendulum swung way to teach what is taught on the test. She also mentioned teaching to the state standards.
Since I work in multiple states and have most of the standards, I see many inconsistencies between states where some are more rigorous. All have too many standards that touch on content that may or may not be relevant. Historical information builds on previous information. I do know states like Texas with their TEKS (standards) and TAKS (test) teach most of the standards over a three year period. Some savvy teachers have figured out that if they teach what is taught on the test that year then they can go deeper on specific standards. The only problem with this method is building on prior knowledge. If you teach Western Expansion but donít cover Manifest Destiny, the concept is lost.
That is, unless teachers encourage their students to do research on the why something happened and not just read it out of a book. Teach students to think, problem-solve, and maybe put themselves in that time period. I remember a wonderful software program called Oregon Trail. Students simulated a family going on this adventure. I took it a step further and had fifth grade students as part of one family keep and manage a budget with a spreadsheet, write letters home to Aunt Sue, use a graphics program to draw one of their adventures, create a newsletter after one week, and on their final leg of the adventure, do a video interview of the survivors.
Yes, this took time, but I know those students remember what happened on the Oregon Trail and learned some valuable technology skills. This was in 1986.
When looking at concepts and individual standards, it is easier for teachers to follow the prescribed curriculum. Developing curriculum takes a lot of work but it is so rewarding. Assessment should not only be scores on a test but examples of performance and demonstration of what they know.
How about investing in your teachers and developing a research study group?
How about spending a week having your teachers map the curriculum and standards and find the nuggets that help them understand the concepts?
Just imagine teaching and learning environments where teachers and administrators manipulate the curriculum and really determine how to get to the depth of a concept, how to scaffold that concept so it is understood by all students, how to encourage collaboration among students so they want to help each other so you have a real effective learning environment.
Resource: Patricia Deubel, Ph.D., "Accountability, Yes. Teaching to the Test, No.," T.H.E. Journal, 4/10/2008, http://www.thejournal.com/articles/22417