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It's Testing Season - Part 2

Last week, I talked about some consequences of standardized testing. To read that post, click here.

As I stated in that post, there is nothing wrong with assessing students’ mastery.

Although not the original intent, the results of standardized tests have become punitive towards the stakeholders - schools, teachers, and students.

They have become the gatekeepers to promotion to the next grade and to graduation.

It’s time to put high-stakes testing into perspective.

Education should be focused on learning, not creating successful test takers.

At a Morehouse College speech, Martin Luther King said,

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

Each generation is faced with solving problems never seen before. It takes critical thinking, problems solving, innovative ideas, and collaboration to solve problems. No standardized test can measure these skills.

Moreover, many of the jobs that will be available to today’s students don’t exist today. Children are by nature inquisitive. Narrowing curriculum to what is tested essentially stifles curiosity.

We are inadvertently teaching our kids to focus on the content that they need to know to be successful test takers. We shouldn’t be surprised when students ask, “Will this be on the test?”

We’ve all seen students who have a deep understanding of a topic but fare poorly when tested. Putting focus on a test score promotes the idea that “I’m not smart,” when in reality they are not good test takers.

And the opposite is true. You can get a good score on a test without having a true understanding of the subject if you are good at memorizing and taking tests.

Teaching to the test has resulted in reducing the time devoted to social studies, science, handwriting instruction, and social- emotional development.

Many schools have abandoned the arts despite multiple studies which have concluded that the arts contribute to students’ achievement in math and reading.

Art education benefits students in many ways, including but not limited to verbal skills, motivation, confidence, and a growth mindset -- competencies that are needed in order to learn.

Educational achievement can’t be measured by a test score on one particular day.

Imagine you are an Olympian who has trained for years for the chance to win Olympic Gold. Derek Redmond was one of Britain’s top athletes in the 1980s and 1990s. He broke the British 400-meter record twice.

At the 1992 Olympic Games, Redmond was one of the athletes favored to win the 400-meter semi-final race. He easily won the first two heats. However, a little over halfway through the semi-final race, Redmond’s hamstring snapped.

His dreams of Olympic gold was over in an instant. With his father’s help he hobbled across the finish line, making Redmond’s story often told to illustrate grit and perseverance.

Education is not an elimination sport. It is a lifelong endeavor.

By telling students that they are no more than a test score earned on one day in the school year, we are implying that if they don’t do well, they might as well give up.

There are many ways to assess mastery.

One way teachers can measure students’ understanding is by using formative and summative assessments.

Formative assessments can be formal, such as quizzes or exit slips, or informal, such as teacher observations, having class discussions or playing games.

Formative assessments are an opportunity for teachers to see during the course of teaching how much students are understanding and retaining.

Summative assessments are usually done at the end of a unit of study or a course. They can be formal, like a test or paper, or informal, like a project or a video presentation.

Another option is for teachers to collect work samples in student portfolios to show students’ growth and mastery over time. Having students add to the portfolio empowers them to self-reflect and explain why they chose certain items to include.

According to education reformer, John Dewey, self-reflection is the only type of thinking that leads to learning.

It gives students “skin in the game”. Students start to understand that they are responsible for their learning outcomes. They can evaluate what worked for them and what didn’t. It encourages a growth mindset as students see the trajectory of their learning.

This level of metacognition is not possible by looking at a test score.

The results of any type of assessment should drive instruction.

Purposeful assessments provide teachers valuable information. Using quantitative and qualitative data, teachers can differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of their students.

Assessments are meaningless unless we use the results to self-reflect on our teaching. What are our next steps? How are we going to change our instructions for individual students, small groups, or the entire class?

Daily and weekly plans must be altered. Many times these changes must be made even in the course of our instruction when it’s obvious what we’re doing isn’t effective.

Should student achievement or teacher and school effectiveness be measured by a single test?

Or do you believe, that while standardized tests aren’t perfect, they are the best way we have to objectively compare and measure the quality of education and student mastery of the curriculum?

What do you think?

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