Why Do We Test Students?

1.24.10 – PWC Education Reform Blog – I had always thought that the objective of testing was to determine if the students fully grasped the topic and offer additional instruction if any such areas were identified. Conversations with several parents over the last several weeks have me wondering if that assumption on my part was incorrect.

Why Do We Test Students?

PWC Education Reform Blog

I had always thought  that the objective of testing was to determine if the students fully grasped the topic and offer additional instruction if any such areas were identified. Conversations with several parents over the last several weeks have me wondering if that assumption on my part was incorrect.

At the end of major units our children take tests.  Those tests by and large are not written by the teacher or the district curriculum department.  The tests are created by the textbook publishers or other national testing groups.  They are generally multiple choice and are scored by the classroom teachers and are re-used for several years.  As a result students are sent home with a note indicating how they performed on the test, but the test itself with incorrect responses denoted isn’t sent home.

Why would this be concerning and lead me to question how the results of those test are used?  Because it recently came to my attention that students are required to re-take tests if they get less than 90% correct.  But they aren’t given additional instruction to address comprehension gaps identified by the test – they’re given the test with the correct responses marked on it and told to study the test.

It seems our objective in testing students is to ensure that everyone gets 90% or more correct, not that they understand 90% of the content.

One parent commented that her child’s entire class tanked on the fractions assessment.  But the unit was over and in order to keep up with lesson pacing, nothing was done.  There was no additional instruction, no additional homework, nothing.

I have to admit that I’m very uncomfortable with this practice because it seems, well, to be a complete waste of time which will likely add to students developing pre-test anxiety rather than improving their understanding of the topic.  Coupled with the knowledge that the district, apparently, hasn’t bothered to examine our detailed SOL results to identify areas of concern and clearly hasn’t adapted instruction in response to those concerns, I have to wonder why we even bother to test our kids.

Comments


  1. Levi Boren

    Assessments can be used for a variety of purposes, such as to demonstrate proficiency (certification), to identify needs (development), or to compare ability (performance). I agree with the author that far too often school assessments are not used for developmental purposes. This is especially true of State assessments; assessments that are useful to administrators, program planners, and commissioners, but of little benefit to any individual student. Personally I can think of no better reason to administer assessments in schools than to provide useful feedback to students and guide instruction for them in the future. The US Dept. of Ed. is currently soliciting feedback as it attempts to decide on grant criteria for the Race to the Top Assessment Competition. I have reviewed some of the official comments from those meetings and have some hope that States will come up with some creative and better suited testing programs. Still, I don't see a fundamental shift in testing philosphy in education coming any time soon.

    Levi Boren
    Research & Assessment Manager
    American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE)

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January 24th, 2010

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