There’s a tension in American schools between those who want more testing on academic subjects and those who want less. The testing faction supports accountability and academic rigor. Those oppose it want to save teachers and students from the deadening effects of “teaching to the test”, and instead promote self-esteem and creativity.
I’ve always been firmly in the latter camp. What if tests are really good for kids, though?
The New York Times ran an essay this week about the Chinese approach to elementary education, which is a sea of tests. The author found that her kids thrived in their high-test environment, only to flail when they returned to New York and were enrolled in a progressive, non-testing school here.
The theory in favor of a lot of small tests is pretty straightforward. It measures student’s progress, and gives them the chance to fail without that failure mattering much. As Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational assessment, told the New York Times:
What’s best for kids is frequent testing, where even if they do badly, they can get help and improve and have the satisfaction of doing better. Kids don’t get self-esteem by people just telling them they are wonderful.
The problem with that theory though is that tests may teach kids the wrong things. That kind of frequent testing is an effective way to help kids improve at the skills they are being tested on, but it won’t teach them to think creatively or critically.
Now, I’m not a professor of educational assessment. I learned enough in school to know that professors often know things I don’t, so this guy may know more than me.
But. I went to a college where there were no tests. Not only did I learn a lot there, I learned how to learn. The things I had to do in college were things I’ve often had to do in real life: read critically, write clearly, do research. Never once have I needed to fill out a multiple choice exam for professional purposes.
Photo: Casey Serrin