Monday, April 23, 2012

What Is The Role Of Standardized Tests In Learning?

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last week was a big week at my school and throughout much of Georgia as well.  It was a week of standardized tests which reveal how much students have learned throughout the year and for some grade levels the final test score plays a big factor in whether or not the student passes to the next grade.  No one in the school system is a very big fan of testing and how it seems to have taken on a life of it's own.  Students of course stress over tests.  I remember one year as I was sorting out the math scratch paper from the test booklets for some second graders, I ran across one piece that had this written on the page;  "Dear God Help me do good on this test".

Believe it or not teachers stress over tests as well.  It is as much a challenge for the teacher as the students since many view it as a reflection of how well they have taught all year long.  One teacher told me that she hardly slept the night before testing started and when she did, she awakened from a dream where she imagined she was holding in her hand big clumps of her hair.  Doesn't really take a rocket scientist to figure out the meaning of that dream does it?  Another teacher told me in great desperation some of the questions her students asked after she carefully read them the directions to the test.  These questions included such things as, "Do we stop on the page where it says stop?"  "Do we stop bubbling in answers on the answer sheet when it says to stop working in the booklet?"  Much like the question, "When do we celebrate the Fourth of July? "  these sorts of questions strike fear into the heart of the dedicated teacher.

Part of the difficulty with testing is that one score takes on such importance that students, teachers and parents alike can lose sight of the fact that it is only a one time representation of the student's successful learning.  When the focus of testing or grades for that matter becomes the weakness or poor performance of the student rather that recognizing and enhancing that student's strengths, then no one is being well served.

Imagine this scenario;  your child comes home with their report card and has the following grades, an A, a C and a F.  What do you as the parent focus on?  What grade would get the most time and attention?  Studies by Tom Rath of Strengthfinders shows that about 77% of parents would focus on the F.  What if instead the same time and focus was spent on the area of strength?  What if we taught children to maximize their areas of strength?  I'm not suggesting that we ignore deficits.  We all need to achieve some minimum standards but why spend most of our time and attention on areas that we aren't naturally gifted in? Just imagine that I decided for instance that instead of spending my spare time writing and teaching, two areas that I am gifted in, instead I tried to improve my math skills so that I could become an accountant or perhaps help people with their taxes in my down time.  Sounds ridiculous doesn't it?  But don't we often push students in the same way? Tom Rath says that instead of teaching children they can be anything they want to be... we should instead teach them how they can be the very best who at who they already are.  In other words focus, on their strengths and maximize them.

Have you experienced a similar scenario with your child?  What did you focus on?  What do you feel should be the role of tests in the learning environment?


  1. Oh, how I dreaded testing week!
    I love your thoughts about stressing the strengths of children. Unfortunately, to get into college, our young people are given a bar to accomplish well in all areas whether these are their gifts or not. I sure wish there was a better way within the system, but, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with succeeding in a area where you never imagined you could. That's the story of math and me! :)
    Great post!

  2. My first reaction isn't Happy when I see the F. I ask my children if they tried their best? If they say yes, then I say what can we do to improve this grade? Do you need to stay after school or get help during free time? Or would you like my help? I don't put them on the spot, especially when I know it isn't their best subject.