Does the thought of taking a test make you break out in a cold sweat? I know for me that my performance anxiety goes through the roof at test time. There is always a fear in the back of my mind that I will fail. I feel like tests are a sort of necessary evil. We want to see where our students are at, but I also question whether we are relying on them too much. Are we doing too much testing or is there a better way of assessing learners?
“Sometimes the most brilliant and intelligent students do not shine on standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.”Diana Ravitch
I get that assessing learners is important, but what is the best way? Is it multiple-choice tests? They certainly make it easier for the teacher, especially if they are graded by scantron. Personally, not my favorite. Is it through standardized tests? Again, not really.
I do get that we need to assess our students/children and see where they are “at” when it comes to their education. Are they missing anything? What are their strengths and weaknesses? But I do think that standardized tests can put too much pressure on our children and thus potentially destroy any love of learning. Schools use them for things like funding, different programs they can implement and how teachers are doing. It is easier and quicker to have standardized tests rather than other systems of ongoing assessment. Let’s look at some pros and cons of standardized testing.
PROS OF STANDARDIZED TESTING
It is a metric for learning.
That sounds very teacherish, so what does that mean? It means you are looking at what they are learning according to the age group .
Pinpoints areas for improvement.
As a teacher, this helps you to see what a student, or even a group of students may not know. In homeschooling, it is helpful for you, as the parent, to see areas that might need improvement.
This shows where the students are progressing. Do they follow a certain curve? Are they gaining the new skills and knowledge necessary.
CONS OF STANDARDIZED TESTING
Stress and performance anxiety.
For many students there is great pressure to do really well on the tests. This can come from schools and from family! Stress levels rise and there is performance anxiety. I don’t like this. I just want to take that pressure off from our students. Yes, I would like to see that they are learning, but it doesn’t have to be something that makes you lose sleep and feel sick over.
Teach to the test.
Look, I know that this controversial, but there is a tendency to “teach to the test” so that the students perform better on the test. This means greater emphasis is given on the material that is going to be in the test. This is more prevalent when you are following a more content driven style of education rather than skills based.
Scores don’t equal potential.
Some students just don’t do well on tests! And a low grade doesn’t mean they are a “bad” student. It just means that they learn differently, perhaps at their own pace, and perhaps stress has caused a lower grade. There can be many factors.
This list provides some helpful information on the pros and cons of standardized tests.
How I like to assess if possible, rather than test:
- Talk it through. Give a time and say that the student has to tell you as much as they know about the topic. Another way we can label this is “oral tests”. But by providing an atmosphere where they can just tell you, you invite them into their learning and interest.
- Ongoing assessment – taking pieces of work a student has done (whether a math activity, a story that was written, a science lab) and noting how they are doing. Then coming back in a few weeks and looking again at how they are doing. This is looking at a progression of their work.
- Allow short answer written tests.
- Use a variety of methods of “testing” – true and false, matching, fill in the blank
- Write a story and assess spelling, punctuation, grammar, ability to write cohesive sentences.
- And so on….there are so many ideas.
When it comes to assessing learners at home, there are different things you can do. What you need to do standardized testing wise differs from state to state. You need to find out the requirements. Some require it every year, some every 3 years.
If you have a complete curriculum, it will contain all you need for testing and assessing. You can just follow the curriculum and it will give you all the tests and quizzes you need.
If you are more like me, and do not follow a set curriculum, then assess as you go. I look at the skills that are needed in learning, but I am not defined ultimately by grade levels. Are my girls progressing? Is their handwriting improving? Have they mastered those math concepts and are ready to move on to the next thing? etc.
I get that we need to be assessing learners and seeing where our students are at. It is important. But we don’t need to be pushing our students into performance anxiety and stress.