With education becoming more of a numbers game, educators and administrative leaders are looking for ways to make both students and teachers accountable for learning. It’s a natural outgrowth of trying to figure out why there is such a gap in students’ ability and retention of knowledge and skills.
The many initiatives that exist as well as the multitude of high stakes testing used to level the playing field nationally (like SATs and ACTs), have created a panic on both sides of the desk. Teachers don’t want to be evaluated based on student achievement and students don’t want to be judged based on the results of one or a number of tests. Because we are all people and numbers don’t effectively paint a three dimensional picture of who we are.
The issue really isn’t if tests are bad, because intrinsically they aren’t; they’re just tests, emotionless and objective (well sort of). The real issue is the emphasis that is placed on the outcome of the tests and how much time goes into teaching to them which doesn’t tell us much about what a person really knows.
There are many different ways of assessing students’ learning that don’t include a timer (because aside for school environments, I don’t know that I’ve ever been timed to show my knowledge ever). Project-based learning has been a viable outgrowth of the hysteria the test anxious have created. There is more flexibility in the design of a project and offers the students adequate time to show a range of skills and knowledge in many different ways.
For example, if students are given three weeks to craft a short satire after reading Great Expectations, where they first have to understand what they’ve read, and the concept of satire and then create something original first in writing and then use technology to display their learning, how much more do I know as a teacher about how well they “got it”? A multiple choice test about the novel would have told me they understood plot points and character, but they wouldn’t even have to have read the novel to be successful with that.
From that one assignment, I’ve learned more about the students than I ever could from one test and the students generally enjoy completing that assignment. (If you are interested in trying this assignment, here it is: DickensSatireAssignment)
In addition to doing these projects, students are also expected to reflect on their learning based on the standards the project wanted them to display. They walk away with a much more enriched and nuanced education that stays with them longer because it didn’t only last three hours.
Tests do have their place, however. I’m not saying they should be forsaken forever. Exams are a fact of life and there are skills that can be honed from taking them and teachers can learn a lot about their students from their results.
|Test taking skills
||What teachers learn from analyzing data from tests|
The conversation about tests is not a simple one. Changing the testing culture is akin to changing the values of a system that has been in place for a long time. Re-evaluating how and what modifications are necessary takes time and won’t quickly evolve.