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How NOT To Prepare A Student For A Standardized Test


(Update: Readers might find an exchange I had with Alfie Kohn in the comments section interesting)

Alfie Kohn shared a video on Twitter this morning that a Nebraska school district posted on YouTube as a good example of how a teacher should talk with a student in preparing for a standardized test. This was his tweet:


It is an unfortunate video, and here it is:

I feel bad for the student, and I feel bad for the teacher, who is stuck in a system, as many teachers are, where the narrow focus on “data” overshadows relationships and learning. Talking to students about their “weaknesses” based on standardized test scores and telling them what their goals should be is not going to lead to anything good.

I’ve previously posted about the kinds of conversations I have with students prior to their taking state tests, and I think the contrast might be informative:

Talking With Students About Standardized Tests

The Most Effective Thing I’ve Done To Prepare Students For Standardized Tests

You can also find links to them, as well as to other related resources, at The Best Posts On How To Prepare For Standardized Tests (And Why They’re Bad).

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. There is NOTHING right about that method!
    The student appears embarrassed, nervous and intimidated. Yet, she regurgitates wonderfully!

  2. Just to be clear, I posted this video not so much because I didn’t like the way this teacher was preparing a student to take a standardized test but because the conversation (if you can call it that) was just *about* preparing a student to take a test, not about learning. As another educator commented, “The real problem isn’t that the teacher isn’t involving the student in the task; the problem is the task itself.” I’m not sure I’d want to help teachers develop more skillful or friendly techniques for test-prep conferences because that will only distract us from, if not perpetuate, the real threat to education.

    • Alfie,

      Thanks for making that important point. At the same time, though, since most of us teachers and our students have to deal with these kinds of standardized tests now and probably for years to come, it is important for us to have conversations with students so they understand going in that they are not accurate measurements of their intelligence. This kind of “prep” can have an important impact on many of our kids — especially those who carry insulting labels (“far below basic”) as a result of their previous test results.


  3. I use a two-prong approach for student conferencing: one where I ask reflective questions of students (coaching) and the other where the students show me their work, explain it and then ask me specific questions (consulting). The goal in both cases is a conversation. We sometimes go over goals. We sometimes talk about mastery toward standards. However, it is never about numbers or tests. It’s a five to ten minute conversation once a week guided by the needs and interests of each student.

  4. I teach an elective called Reading for Pleasure, and the kids, time and again, tell me THEY see the connection between reading in my class and ‘preparing’ themselves for testing…they can sit still longer, they can focus their attention on very boring reading passages, they can read faster, they know more vocabulary…all from reading for pleasure. I KNOW specific test prep happens in other classes — they have to! Kids can’t graduate in my state unless they’ve passed 4 of their 7 end of instruction exams, and teachers’ evaluations will be based partially on test scores. When people are desperate and afraid for their jobs, they second guess themselves and what they know is right for kids. I think this is what I resent the most about this entire environment.

  5. We won’t have to deal with these tests “for years to come” if we put a stop to them now.

    It would be great if everyone who sees this would paste the attached on their own wall and ask their friends to do the same:

    The Open Letter to Obama will be mailed in one week. Last chance to get on board and tell the President:


    An immediate end to high-stakes student testing and the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student scores as a basis for evaluating teachers, preferring charter schools to existing public schools, and requiring closure of low performing schools.
    The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.
    The incorporation of parents, teachers, and school administrators in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.
    Create a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of America’s schools.

  6. We started using MAP this year, too. I also like the leveling and the focus on growth -the graphs are a wonderful quick visual to show parents individual progress, no matter what the starting point of the student. It has also been helpful in identifying issues and confirming what I am seeing in the classroom. However, the other thing I like is that there is absolutely no way to prep students for this test. We never see the questions and every child gets a unique set of questions. I would never dream of setting a numerical goal with students, as there us no way for them to work on achieving that goal. The stands are so broad as to not be at all useful for driving instruction. I see MAP as a measurement tool only, not as a formative assessment to drive instruction. For that, I use DRA2 which allows for much more individualized diagnostics.

  7. Pingback: Kids are Test Data | My Wired Life

  8. This video on MAP goal setting with young kids is even more disturbing:

  9. I read a great book recently titled “Successful Intelligence” by Robert Sternberg. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a well researched, well written argument against standardized tests being used as a measure of learning. The author has an impressive number of credentials which would duly qualify him to speak/write as an expert.

    I would also suggest researching a study that was published last November or October I believe called something like “verbal iq vs. non-verbal iq in the teenage brain.” This was a longitudinal study done in London and published in the journal nature that compared the two types of iq to mri imaging in teenagers over about 3 to 6 years. The findings were quite eye-opening. There was a strong correlation to significant drops or spikes in iq and brain activity related to physical structural changes in the brain shown in the mri imaging. A lot of implications here as to what these tests are really measuring.

  10. Whether it’s right or wrong, teachers have been painted in a corner with state and national assessments. Until our “leaders” figure out we can’t standardize individuals, teachers will continue to do their best to meet the needs of their students and meet the demands of our governing leaders. To this teacher’s credit, she is one who has built relationships with her students and MAP testing is not all she is doing in her classroom. I know her and she’s a wonderful teacher!!! She is encouraging her student to see areas where she’s grown and areas she needs to grow. Unfortunately, data is driving and describing school districts throughout our nation. Cut her some slack. She’s trying to do the best she can given the “rules” she has to play by.

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