On taking final exams and other standardized tests

20140618-081217-29537483.jpgThe hallways are eerily quiet and so are the classrooms.

Papers adorn the windows or walls outside the classrooms, reminding passers-by that testing is in session and decorum should be maintained.

A police state is in effect.

Cell phones are not permitted. Cheated is certainly not okay and evidence of meaningful learning may be exempt too.Much like grades on report cards, final exams and other summative measures of learning are extremely limited. They offer a narrow look into the learning of any child and sometimes even test the wrong things.

In society, what we grade or test shows the values of a space, so what does end of year state exams say about us as a system?

Here are some inferences:

  • What kids can cram into one day and regurgitate on a test matters
  • There is only one right answer
  • Failure means you haven’t learned anything
  • One test is very powerful and decides much of what will happen in the future
  • Grades are very important, even if meaningless
  • Students are numbers

If you are reading this list, you are probably shaking your head (as you should be), saying that’s not what education is at all.

Education should be about learning. The emphasis on the formative interactions that happen in the classroom with students independently, with peers and with teachers. We track their progress daily and teach them to be aware of their growth, also adjusting goals and moving forward.

When students can talk about their learning, synthesize information and then help teach it to others, we know that achievement has happened.

There are so many factors that can invalidate the results of a test that happens only once. It just isn’t a fair measure of what kids know.

As we continue to shift the paradigm of what public education needs to be, it is imperative that we consider what we value and how we present it to the students. High stakes testing doesn’t do the trick. We need to find a more inclusive approach that values many modes of learning and intelligence.

What do you value as an educator? How do you show it?


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Here is my whimpy, middle-of-the-road position on summative tests...

1) Final exams can provide information on content that students understand, but

2) Final exams shouldn't be a major part of a course grade.

Ideally, it would be nice to get rid of traditional grading altogether.  But I do believe that we want to have some sort of standard measuring stick that says "this student is doing pretty well relative to his/her age or grade level."  

Ideally, I want students and parents to be more interested in "learning" and less interested in "the grade".


@pcincotta I hear ya. That would be ideal. I suppose I have an issue with these tests... they aren't terribly well made or objective. I agree with the second part and everything else. 

thanks for reading and sharing your ideas.


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