Solutions to Test Prep

I was recently in Texas for South by Southwest Edu and I spoke with some teachers who are bound by some very strict instructional limitations because of what they identify as testing requirements.  At a recent conference in Baltimore, we heard from someone who was actually docked pay because of test scores.  These people always say that they must teach to the test because the results of these tests are so high stakes.  While, in Vermont, we do not over-focus on these tests in the same way that many states do, I have had the opportunity to administer our state testing.  The biggest observation that I have made is that when students get to a problem or task that is either novel or looks daunting, they tend to skip it or give up.  Sometimes they don’t even read the question before they give up.  They do not dig for any information that they may know that might help them approach the problem.  They simply give up.  So, one solution is to teach kids every little skill that is on the test using drill and kill, hoping that they will remember these disconnected and irrelevant pieces of information.  But what if we just taught kids the strategies that will help them effectively solve novel problems? What if we spent our time developing a culture of perseverance, curiosity and developing student confidence around approaching the unknown? I obviously haven’t split tested these two methods but given my personally lengthy experience with remembering disconnected bits of information, I can say anecdotally that it’s probably at least worth a try.  I wonder if there are other ways that we can change our perspectives around this problem and create more innovative solutions that allow us to work “inside the box” as George Couros promotes in the Innovator’s Mindset.