A student’s take on testing

I’ve hoped that I might persuade some students to participate as guest bloggers. Many thanks to Suzie Rhodes, who sent me her thoughts on testing.

I asked Suzie (pictured below) to tell me a little about herself, and here’s her reply:

Well, I’m a sophomore in high school, play the violin with a number of groups, and I’m a Venturer. Kind of an overachiever in school, but not so much about grades as taking a lot of challenging classes. I like dogs, Doctor Who, and rappelling. Not much else to say.

Actually, she has much more to say, and I found her perspective thoughtful, persuasive and reassuringly balanced.

Since you said you were interested in student viewpoints on almost anything, I think I’ll give some insight on how I feel about testing.

State testing is coming up soon, so it’s got a spot in the front of my mind right now. All the teachers are starting to give us the reviews and test prep for the state tests, and it bugs me that so much weight is put on these tests because I don’t think it’s possible for a test to be an accurate representation of what we’ve learned. The classic test, answering a list of questions, doesn’t prove that you can do anything other than take a test. I mean, half of the questions on any given test are likely to have their answer in the phrasing of another question, math tests being the exception to this. And math tests have their own problems (pun intended). If it’s multiple choice you don’t even have to know how to solve the problem, all you have to do is plug in the answers.

But that’s not to say that tests are useless. I read an article on sciencedaily.com that gives evidence that tests improve learning. They help you remember more info for a longer time. That makes sense. Everyone knows that you’re going to remember the problems you missed on the test. It’s almost a law of nature. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101014144235.htm, if you want to read it.) And I’ve always preferred tests to assignments. They take less time, and you rarely actually have to pay attention the rest of class because you just prepare before the test or review afterwards.

I’m not alone in this. Look at my English class. Our teacher asked whether we’d prefer to have a final project or a test, and the answer was almost unanimously in favor of the test. I think that the only reason tests have prevailed so long as the primary measure of student learning at the higher level is because the other methods aren’t as concrete. Tests can give absolute, non-negotiable scores. Scoring on pretty much anything else is a matter of opinion. It’s like what they teach in science class. It’s easier to measure quantity (or anything else with numbers) rather than quality. It’s just too subjective otherwise.

And that’s where we run into problems. We’re trying to measure the quality of our education, but quality is an opinion, not a measurement or some other kind of number. And the government isn’t willing to change something as time-honored as testing, and I can’t even think up a reasonable alternative to testing for evaluating students. So I’m not going to fault them for testing. It makes sense for their needs. But I don’t think that they’ll ever be able to measure something qualitative in numbers, and that’s why everyone is running into such problems with their attempts to measure a school’s success.

Any other students out there who would like to weigh in? Parents? I love the teacher and administrator comments, but I’d love to hear from some of education’s other stakeholders.

One comment

  1. Yak_Herder

    I’d enjoy reading more perspectives like this. Well done, Suzie (and kudos on taking part in Venturing as well).

    I’ve taken a number of “government” tests. Maybe something can be learned, maybe not, but here is a run down on a few of them:

    1. Utah Concealed Carry Permit. I have no intention of carrying a gun; I don’t even own one. I was, however, curious enough about the gun laws to take a class and pay the fees. Through reciprocal agreements, Utah’s permit is valid in 32 other States. Even so, there was no requirement to actually fire a weapon. It was basically a “sit and get”. A couple of hours, a few fees, and send in the paperwork. The State has a few more dollars, yet another copy of my fingerprints, and information for a background check (teachers regularly do this, so it wasn’t any big deal to me), but no one has any idea whatsoever of what I do or do not know. Not testing everyone is not an answer.

    2. FCC Amateur Radio Operator License. Within just a few weeks, I passed the Technician, General, and Extra license class exams. I do not own a radio. I have never even used a radio, but I hold the highest rating. To prepare, we spent about four hours reviewing the entire pool of test questions and the correct answers (the distractors were not even listed). With prep like that, passing the test was not an issue. This is the image that comes to my mind when I think of “teaching to the test”. Teaching and Testing everyone merely as a hoop to jump through with no practical application is mostly pointless.

    3. Utah State Driver License (vehicle, renewal). I didn’t study. It didn’t matter. I’m not sure what good the test was. The biggest concern seems to be the greatly more restrictive policies concerning proof of identity. No road test. Even though I have wear glasses virtually every waking hour, I passed the vision test. Truthfully, they should probably be interested in my blood sugar level. Again, the test is just a hoop.

    4. Utah State Driver License (motorcycle, renewal) I didn’t study. It mattered. I took the test twice with a quick look at the book in between tests. No road test. I haven’t been on a motorcycle in 20 years. Another hoop.

    5. FAA Private Pilot License. I studied. I learned. I took yet another multiple-choice test, but it was well done. No guessing, no testing strategies, a straight up evaluation of knowledge that mattered. I then took (and passed) a physical. I spent a number of hours in the plane with a licensed instructor and in solo flight practicing maneuvers, navigation, etc. Finally, I completed a test flight with an FAA examiner. It was a thorough and effective process. No hoops here.

    6. Utah Licensed Educator. I came to the profession with a couple of decades of experience in the field and could have taught under an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL), but chose to complete a degree as well. I studied. I learned. I took a couple of professional exams (Praxis PLT, Praxis (Technology), Praxis (Physics) to name a couple). I was mentored and gained a level I license. I taught for a few years, earned a level II license, and went on to earn a Master’s degree (taking the GRE in there somewhere. It’s all a blur.). I was (am) evaluated on a number of occasions as a student and then even more often as a teacher. The feedback I got from my professors was pretty valuable. The reviews I get now aren’t. The tests are somewhat reflective of a few facts I have stored away and a few others that I could puzzle out during the test, but shed very little light on my ability to actually teach.

    Testing in Education should be at least as good as the FAA’s. There are some parallels, but it is not as good. The essential skills related to flying are far less subjective than those for teaching, but I reserve the right to hold fast to the ideal.

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