Testing, Testing, Testing II

Yesterday’s post sparked some great conversations!  Thank you, friends and faithful readers, for questioning, challenging, sharpening, deepening, and, yes, testing my thoughts!

In a response to the Google+ plus thread, Ira noted that

… many teachers that I see don’t “hate” tests, they give a lot of them, and they don’t hate the imposition of rules either, they just don’t like others imposing rules.

True, and powerful!  Some teachers do love tests … and others love giving tests but hate grading them.  And of course many teachers love imposing rules, but hate having them imposed by others.  As I was drafting this post on Monday evening, I saw some great examples in Monday’s #stuvoice chat on Twitter – a conversation that began as a discussion of students evaluating teachers but quickly disintegrated into teachers angrily protesting the idea of students grading them.  Apparently evaluation automatically translates as grading for many teachers, even those who participate in a chat like #stuvoice … and grading means high stakes and pain and punishment and, of course, tests.

Back on the G+ thread, Debbie asked a key question that we teachers often avoid:

Are we assessing for the sake of the assessment or to really gather useful information about the student and how to better serve the student?

“Because it’s Tuesday,” or “because it’s the end of the chapter,” or “because tests are 40% of my grades and I need some things in that category” are terrible reasons to assess!

Sidebar: why do teachers say “my” grades?  And why do some not want students to see how those all-important numbers were calculated?  Is it the power that grading gives us, power that we don’t want to relinquish because we don’t feel very powerful otherwise?  Is that why some test-loving teachers “hate” standardized tests – because external assessment robs us of the power we’d like to wield?

Rachel noted that not all teachers are the test-loving kind:

I want to point out that I am not at all sure these tests are useful for honest child need evaluation or as real assessments of what a child knows or can do. That is why I resent standardized tests and the time they take from my classes. If they were assessments that had real meaning for me and instruction it would be different.

That’s one reason why I’ve moved away from tests to other, more focused, more authentic forms of assessment in my own classes.  I want to know what my students can do, not whether they’re terrified or exhausted or overwhelmed by a long test.

George made a great point about tests that prepare for other tests:

The PSAT is a 100% waste of time for students. It is a test to get ready to take a test and teachers already do test prep. (I know we all know this, but you DID ask why teachers might object. I was good at such tests, so I didn’t mind taking it and showing off, but even as a student I think I knew it was a waste.)

For me, the real value of the PSAT lies in “the rest of its acronym.”  When money is hard to find, the National Merit Scholarship Program can make a real difference. So if you know you might be a Finalist or Semi-Finalist, why not spend a few hours testing in exchange for significant scholarship funds?  Why not play the game to win if you’re going to play the game at all?  But George, you’re right, that doesn’t justify giving the PSAT to everybody.

If you haven’t read Debbie’s blog post about assessments, please do!  It’s powerful, and I need some time to reflect on it.  And check out Brendan’s comments on this Google+ thread, too.

I realize we still haven’t really answered the question we ended with yesterday:

How can we change the paradigm so that every set of assessment results becomes helpful information, not a hurtful label?

Is that even possible in a factory-model system that’s designed to sort and label rather than to help and support?  And if not, how do we build a new, different system that is designed to help and support?  What role would grades, labels, and other short forms of feedback play in a system designed to help and support?

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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