Preparing our Students for the Big Test: Sustaining Test Score Gains Requires Good Teaching, Not Skill and Drill

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Publication Date
March 2003


In this Guest Opinion piece the author addresses a nationwide concern that increased emphasis on high-stakes testing often leads to ‘an impoverished educational program…of skill and drill.’ She points out that in addition to this deleterious effect on the quality of children’s education, research has shown that the ‘skill and drill’ approach does not result in continued improvement in test scores over time. Typically, test scores plateau within three years of the introduction of a new test. However, the author offers an alternative approach which has been shown to produce sustained improvement over time, based on findings of RFA research in Philadelphia schools during 1995-2000. Researchers found some schools in which teachers had learned how to prepare students to do well on standardized tests (at this time, the District used the SAT-9) in the midst of challenging and engaging lessons. The author gives an example of how one science teacher integrates preparation for math sections of the SAT-9 into an exciting lesson on the solar system. This teacher and others in her school attended extensive professional development on the science curriculum, which included suggestions on incorporating test-taking preparation into lessons. In schools using this approach, test score gains did not plateau, but continued a steady increase.


  • Jolley Bruce Christman