Rather than using tests as a measurement of the end of a cycle of learning, we need to use them more as part of the learning process.
Tests are a major part of school life and have been used as the predominant measure of student learning. When I refer to “tests” here, I’m thinking of written tests completed by students individually.
The belief that all students should be given the same assessment tool is based on several assumptions:
· we assume a test accurately measures what it purports to measure, hence the marks are “valid” and can be used for a wide variety of purposes;
· we assume that knowledge resides in an individual’s head and can be retrieved;
· we assume each student has the same potential to achieve, using the same instrument;
· we assume because the test is the same, it is equitable and fair, and can equally measure each individual;
· we assume the knowledge and skills tested will correlate with future application; and
· we assume we can create an average mark, which tells us how “below” or “above” an individual is.
How many of these statements do you agree or disagree with?
If we were producing widgets, the same outcome test would make sense. You would want a manufacturing system where variance is minimized. Deviance would be a problem.
But we have diversity with humans. We don’t stand alone and we draw our strength from our interactions and collaborations with others. We know people are unique.
Tests are used to level and label students. The average percentages become the person’s identity: “He’s a 60 student. She’s a 90s student.” The numbers become a currency one can use for social capital or they may become a millstone necklace. Typical testing also teaches to rely on someone else’s judgment. Validation is sought from outside, and we learn to compare ourselves to others to measure our supposed worth.
A student with a low mark may be told, “You’ll never make it…With marks like that, you’ll never get a job…you need to try harder, study more…”
A student who “struggles with reading” though, does not have a lack of intellectual ability. A mathematical genius may not be able to tie their shoelaces (true story).
The test, the testing cannot be at fault can it? It is the student who needs correcting and must bend to the test, right?
If we believe people are all unique and learn in unique ways and have multiple intelligences, then why don’t we have multiple ways for students to learn and demonstrate their learning? If students are unique, why don’t we only compare students against their own learning growth?
What can we do differently?
Listen to students after a test: “What did you get on number…I thought it was…Oh, I forgot to add…” With brains activated, they want to know if they have understanding. This is an excellent time to learn. Use this time to have students discuss the test and their answers.
Start by reimagining what a “test” is. You are checking (testing) for understanding. Consider how many different ways this can be done.
AH! you say, that will never work with all of the students I have. No way. The logistics won’t work.
What other ways have you tried?
Here are some suggestions:
· have shorter, more frequent tests (i.e. learning checkstops)
· have students discuss and compare answers immediately after the test and submit collaborative corrections
· after the teacher corrects the test — think about that language — who is doing the learning? have students, working with others, work out the correct answers
· for math corrections, have students self-indicate which questions were “duh, I knew that” or “huh, I had no idea.”
While the traditional model of one test for all dominates, we need to consider the learning skills we want students to develop and create multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
If instead of hearing, “Teacher, what did I get on my test…Teacher, how did I do?” you want to hear more students saying, “I understand…I messed up___ but now I know ___.” When you do, you will know that you passed the test.