For better schools, test more? | Columns
Testing, testing, testing.
This is the obvious answer. If we check more, we’ll learn more, right?
Depends! Why do we test? What do we hope to learn from testing?
Tests are great tools that can help us assess what a learner has learned. However, tests can only show results. A test that shows that a student does not own a subject does not show why that student is lagging behind. The reasons for poor performance tests are almost endless: from simple myopia to neglect at home to the simple need to gain energy from a snack before a test marathon.
Then there is the test itself.
“All tests are not created equal,” said my professor of education at Alderson-Broaddas College in 1967-68.
Dr. Ruth Shearer, one of my most memorable professors, was decent, petite, neat, and generally gentle. In addition to being the wife of the college president, she was a dynamic force on campus who enjoyed education and was committed to training teachers to teach. In fact, she nursed me through my student learning experience when I was on the verge of quitting.
She impressed us with her philosophy of testing, explaining that “… creating good tests is a monumental task that cannot be taken lightly.”
She focused not only on high school and college tests; she felt that creating good tests for toddlers could be just as hard work. Creating tests for higher levels required a wide breadth and depth of knowledge on the topic to be tested.
Creating tests for elementary students also required a comprehensive understanding of young children.
Developing clear questions for any level was a Herculean task. Dr. Shearer gave a few examples of simple questions for grades 5-6 that looked perfectly reasonable until we discussed the questions and realized we had no idea which answer was correct.
“Ah, ha,” she proved her point. “Make sure the question has only one correct answer!”
She further warned us to double and thrice check our answers as we developed our tests.
“Make sure your answer sheet really has the right answers.”
It seems simple. Make sure the correct answer to question 22 is “B”, that in your answer sheet it is not marked as “C”.
“Otherwise, you completely declare the test invalid,” she warned.
It seems like a simple thing, but ask any clerk how many simple mistakes he or she corrects in a day.
Making tests an easy part of learning? No!
Next, she talked about deviating from the rhythm of answers: a, b, c, c, b, a; a, b, c, c, b, a. “Children are smart; they will have time. “
Do not create a template. At the same time my eyes flew.
“Yes, I will never be able to create a half-useful test.”
Today, of course, we have corporations that specialize in creating tests.
No. I doubt that impersonal large corporations are more proficient in test design than classroom teachers, unless tests are used to reduce the number of schools rather than to evaluate for more effective learning.
When we test just to test or eliminate teachers, principals or schools, we do nothing to enrich the education of our children and grandchildren.
In addition, I am concerned that due to the flurry of efforts to prepare for the tests conducted each school year, we have lost full attention to the goal of education.
Students seem to have become an occasional inconvenience.
Has our mantra become, “School will improve when we finally get rid of children?”
Schools need to refocus on testing. We, the public, must demand a revision of the No Child Lost (NCLB) program. The NCLB is a federal guide that requires public schools to perform or be dismantled, and it depends heavily on testing. Testing should be used as a tool to measure how well a teacher is reaching students, not as an excuse to punish or oust a teacher.
We have moved away from the goal of public schools. Focusing on administrators, principals, teachers, posh buildings and testing, we ignored the most important part of the school.
Can you write “disciples”?
Pat Nevada is a paginator of the daily newspaper Gettysburg Times.