When I was a public school music teacher, I joined my colleagues in annoyance with the number of school days spent testing children. With schools’ rankings and “grades” being partially dependent on test scores, administrators are very concerned with getting the highest scores possible. There is a bustling industry around predicting what is on the tests, practice testing, easing students’ anxiety, scheduling strategies, et cetera, to make sure that the highest possible scores are achieved. When a school changes its curriculum to try to get high test scores, it is often called “teaching to the test”. Much content that teachers would like to cover is shoved aside to accommodate the tests. Sometimes a week or two of the school year is devoted to testing. This is often looked at as lost teaching time.
Part of my upcoming book, Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, is a self-assessment protocol for singers. Providing singers with a way to track their own progress is important to me. It empowers singers to make informed decisions about where they study and whether they are getting the results they want. It has the potential to enable a singer to protect himself from getting stuck in a bad vocal training situation. Recently I had the thought that if a test is thoroughly testing universally needed skills, then “teaching to the test” would be giving needed skills to students. Unlike so-called standardized tests, my Self-Assessment Protocol for Singers (SAPS) is flexible, and is designed to compare you to you over time, not you against other people.
I have gone through my self-assessment many times as I’ve worked out the tasks and the instructions. I have made a lot of revisions! The version that will be published has turned out to be a great daily warm-up for myself. It keeps me in touch with the major dimensions of vocal technique, as well as the performance aspect. I hope that most people will also find it useful. It is not tailored to me, but is based on the work of others which I have synthesized and put into practice in the studio successfully.
If you have an excellent test that examines needed skills and points you in a positive direction, rather than a series of “gotchas” designed to weed out the worthy from the untalented, then teaching to the test can be a good thing.