To Teach to the Test or Not

Students take test with better preparation and internship skills

There has been a long discussion within our college about whether or not teaching to the test is appropriate. Of course, the test that we mean is the TExES Principal as Instructional Leader (268) exam, which is in the process of becoming more rigorous and interactive.

As explained on the website of the Texas Educator Certification Program (2018), “This full-length practice exam contains 91 selected-response questions as well as four sample constructed-response questions. The interactive practice exam provides candidates with test-taking experience that simulates the operational exam, and with automated results reporting on the selected-response questions” (para 1). Because of this update to the state exam, our program has gone through some changes to help prepare our students to take and pass this new exam.

In the past, we decided we would not teach to the test, mainly because some thought it would not encourage a well-rounded administrator to be, and if we are encouraging our current teachers to avoid teaching to the test, then we thought we had better avoid it too. However, after learning that the TExES Principal Certification Exam will increase in cost up towards $200 for one attempt, it is imperative that our students pass the test on the first try.

Instead of teaching to the test, per se, we have decided to teach the skills needed to begin a new administrative position with confidence and to pass the TExES Principal as Instructional Leader (268) Exam. First, our program has reorganized the course curriculum within the Principal Program to align better with the Texas Principal Standards, the TExES Principal Exam Competencies, and the Nine Pillars of Leadership. Second, we have lowered the degree plan course hours for a Master’s in Educational Leadership from 36 hours to 30 hours, which has allowed for a more purposeful course load. Next, we created an internship that would encompass a year, instead of one semester.

The first part of the internship is the Professional Principal Preparation course, which includes:

  1. Being certified in evaluating teachers using the Advancing Educational Leadership (AEL) and Texas-Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) programs. These certifications allow persons in Texas to officially appraise teachers.
  2. Understanding the Texas-Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS) and critically analyzing how the AEL, T-TESS, and T-PESS align. Thoroughly and critically learning the components of these programs allows the intern to learn the standards and common administrative language that is relevant in school districts and prepares them to understand the expectations of being an instructional leader.
  3. Community Design Project (CDP) is a chance for students to shadow and participate in leadership activities that are monitored and mentored by a practicing principal. The CDP is an opportunity for students to work side-by-side with other administrators while solving a real issue that the school needs solved. For example, students could work with principals on creating budgets, student handbooks, or data-group policies that focus on student achievement and teacher capacity.
  4. In-box activities are a great way to help principal candidates role play real-life issues. The in-box activities encompass emails from parents, the superintendent, school board members, and teachers, along with a news story on school violence, teacher contracts, budget concerns, and other current and relevant issues. Interns address these issues and apply the Principal Standards, Competencies, and Pillars as they work with each school’s in-box realities.
  5. Video Responses allow interns to explain, in a professional manner, how they would answer a school reality (i.e. active shooter; bullying) with supporting evidence (i.e., state codes, school district policy). The point is to allow the intern to record an answer, reflect on the answer, and evaluate the presentation of the answer. Areas of reinforcement and refinement would need to be identified, and goals would need to be set to improve what has been identified.
  6. Practice Principal Test and Data Chats gives students the chance to take a practice test and analyze the data from the tests. It allows for self-data chats to occur with peers and professors and provides opportunities to discuss how to address areas of refinement.

The second part of the internship will focus on experiential learning experiences, like:

  1. Interns will have the opportunity to evaluate teachers, calibrate their observation data with other campus administrators, and meet with teachers about their evaluations for both a pre- and post-conference.
  2. Goal-setting and identifying professional development opportunities that interns will work towards during their internship allows students to begin performing and reflecting on leadership tasks and duties.
  3. Documenting how each leadership task and duty meets the Principal Standards, Competencies, and 9 Pillars helps the students see how their course work has prepared them to be successful leaders.

Although this is not an exhaustive list of activities that our students will perform during their time at TWU, it is a start to how we plan to not teach to the test, but prepare our students for school leadership. We are excited to see how our students perform during their internship, and hope their course work prepares them to take and pass the Principal as Instructional Leader (268) exam.

Laura Trujillo-Jenks is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Texas Woman’s University, where she teaches courses in the Educational Leadership program.

Warren Gordon Ortloff is an Assistant Professor of Educational Administration at Texas A&M University – Commerce where he: teaches master and doctoral levels courses online; serves as dissertation chair for 20 doctoral candidates; maintains an active research agenda; and is of service to the community. 


Texas Educator Certification Examination Program. (2018). Principal as instructional leader (268) FAQs. Pearson Education, Inc., Amherst, MA.  Retrieved from