For the past month all I have read were disparaging remarks about the horrors of testing – Academic testing that is. Now here is my question – why do educators make testing seem so awful? I love cheering for hard workers – don’t you? And while no one enjoys doing poorly at anything, we all enjoy discovering that we can rise to challenges. When did the very thought of testing become anathema to Academics? Students, even the very youngest, are keen observers, and they know well when anything is a real challenge versus being given some fluff – they also rarely buy into adult attempts to remove grading and marks; the purple versus the orange versus the blue group translates to kids for exactly what it is – a colour coding assessment scheme – equal to an A group versus a B group or a C group – and ask any child or adult student to perform a self assessment and suggest where he/she fits on the scale, the student is often more accurate than the teacher –
To clarify – assessments, benchmarks, tests, be they Common Core, SATs, EQAO, or a test with any other name, are simply one form of allowing students to learn a process – Academics, like sports, involves challenges. This educator led anger at teaching students what an Academic test entails, reads after a while like dismay at actually asking students to use a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge – Note: variety of ways. Testing is one way. Like the actual playoff games (in almost any sport), even a tremendous amount of preparation and practice is not the same as the actual event; to understand the actual event one must participate in it! And no matter how many times a player, or team make it to the finals, each and every game holds weight. It is similar in Academics. The 100% final exam is rare, replaced with presentations, group and individual project work, and even the tests themselves encompass more than one skill. Over the years I have seen students thrill themselves with new found ability to work through a test; familiarity with the type of questions, an understanding of expectations, and an opportunity to have drilled – not a bad word- we use “drill” when speaking of sports – and even dance, we encourage students to practice a musical instrument, fine tuning their skills with the action yet balk at the thought of encouraging students to practice Academic drills? Memory may not be equivalent to understanding but without practice in memorizing, the brain muscle is missing a challenge, and the reaction to questions on a test can be much improved by recognition that the questions are following a pattern.
Testing is healthy when approached from an expected position. When educators can extend the concept of positive challenges throughout a school week, and remove the taint of “bad” from the 4 letter word, “test”, then students will again accept that testing is part of growing, and see preparing as part of learning.
Learning to learn involves so much more than any single test could demonstrate – Yes – but learning how to take a test is central to being able to demonstrate to oneself that the learning has taken hold. Like the trip to the dentist that jokingly is feared, we all recognize how very helpful those twice yearly examinations are so why not smile at twice yearly or more Academic exams, and help our students “brush up” on the skills.