Teaching to the Test?

Teaching to the Test?

Unrealistic goals set for students, have many educators teaching to the test.
Some teachers who find themselves being held accountable for underachieving students are having to find alternative measures to beat the system.

By Graeme Paton

Teachers admit to “teaching to the test” having been put under pressure to effectively cheat the exams system, according to research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Teachers are being put under pressure to effectively cheat the exams system because of pressure to hit “unrealistic and fallacious” exam targets, according to research.

Staff admit to “teaching to the test” and offering a deliberately narrow timetable to maximise children’s grades and give a generous impression of school standards, it was claimed.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers claimed that the target culture in schools was having a negative impact on children’s education.

Almost eight-in-10 teachers surveyed by the union insisted that the pressure to hit exam benchmarks made it “hard to teach a broad and balanced curriculum”, suggesting they were focusing on subjects such as English and maths while ignoring “non-core” disciplines including the arts, PE and religious education.

More than a third also admitted to “making students spend as much time as possible practising tests”.

The disclosure comes amid Government threats to turn schools that consistently fall below official benchmarks into independent academies under new leadership.

Last year, almost 800 primary schools failed to meet targets designed to measure standards in the three-Rs, while 154 state secondaries missed minimum benchmarks for GCSEs.

Ministers insist that targets have an overall galvanising effect on school standards by inspiring teachers and pupils to raise their game, with figures suggesting the number of “failing” schools was much higher before the last General Election.

But research by the ATL suggests that teachers are routinely being forced to manipulate lessons to reach preset goals.

Speaking before the union’s annual conference in Manchester on Monday, Mary Bousted, general secretary, said: “An over-emphasis on targets is having a hugely detrimental impact on children’s education. In too many cases, meeting the targets seems to be more important than children learning and gaining important knowledge and skills.

“Many teachers complain about being set unrealistic or fallacious targets that have little regard for the children they are teaching.”

The ATL surveyed 944 teachers as part of the latest study.

Some 79 per cent said targets prevented them teaching a broad curriculum, while 60 per cent admitted they “teach to the test”. More than a third said they spent “as much time as possible practising tests”.

In a further disclosure, 38 per cent of teachers said they do less practical work and 37 per cent admitted to skipping topics that they know will not be tested in an exam.

One secondary school teacher from Peterborough told researchers: “Targets tend to lead to manipulation of grades and achievement.”

Another secondary teacher from Milton Keynes added: “The schools with the best results are often those that have worked out best how to play the system.”

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