Will This Be on the Test? The Real Score In Testing
As we reported last week, the Ministry of Education has reformed testing rules for China’s students in general and outright banned paper and pen testing for students in second grade and below, raising an important question: What does testing really tell us about what our students know and how much of that knowledge they will retain?
Bottom line, the purpose of a test is to find out if our students are absorbing information. However, over the years, testing has taken on an entirely new set of values and is held up as the answer to a range of educational issues. Teachers are evaluated and ranked on how well their students do on a single exam, students are pressured to within an inch of their sanity because they've been convinced that an exam will change the course of their lives, and parents are railroaded into spending small fortunes on test prep that may or may not have any effect on the outcome at all.
This means teachers are relegated to teaching solely towards the test, students are worried more about memorizing correct answers than understanding materials or processes, and parents are putting their family's financial well-being in jeopardy.
The worst part is, testing tells us very, very little about a child’s knowledge base and is even less of a predictor of future success. So much so that many top-tier universities have stopped requiring things like the ACT/SAT exams and many – including the prestigious University of California network – have stopped considering scores altogether.
“Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-testing."
It can certainly be an element of evaluating a child’s educational journey, but it is not the complete picture and far too much importance has been placed on it as the sole marker of achievement. This is part of the toxic education culture I have written about many times before.
Instead, it is my opinion that we should be encouraging students to find as many avenues as possible to express their knowledge and their understanding of subjects. The truth is every student has skills that come more easily than others, and those skills are the ones they should be leaning into. One child may test well, while another is a brilliant writer and still, another may shine when giving a spoken presentation or completing a complex long-term project. Those skills are the ones that will make them desirable to universities, employers, and communities in the future.
I’m glad the system is working to break down these antiquated structures but I also want us to guard against replacing one false idol with another. Placing too much emphasis on any one skill is dangerous for our kids and our society at large. For example, too much emphasis on written papers could result in valuing research over application while over-emphasizing presentation could lean into the myth that extroversion is better than introversion. Stress about portfolio projects as a sole indication of achievement could be seen to skew away from academics and towards construction or entrepreneurship. All of these elements are good and healthy when balanced within a curriculum, but much like nutrition, too much or too little of any one ingredient results in emaciated or obese intellects. All I’m saying is, let’s try and give our kids a well-balanced educational diet.