Ed Week: A Teacher Finds Good in Testing

September 19, 2011 at 9:11 am 2 comments

This is a nice op-ed piece.  The point is that testing is useful for teachers. It’s too easy to fool ourselves as teachers and believe that our own testing is good enough. Yes, our education system has lots of problems with it, but standardized testing can help to expose the problems. It is not itself the problem. I like another line in this essay: “Standardized testing reflects the curricular priorities of a state’s education agenda. Blaming the test for the shortcomings of that agenda is like blaming the barometer for the weather.”

When I “depoliticized” the test, I found a useful and flawed ally. The exam excelled where I struggled, offering comprehensive and standards-based assessments. I thrived where the test fell short, designing creative, performance-based projects. Together, we were strategic partners. I designed and graded innovative projects—my students participated in court trials for Shakespearean characters—and the test provided a rubric that guided my evaluation of student learning.

The test didn’t make my students smarter. It made the teacher smarter. I learned that my job wasn’t simply to encourage students to relentlessly pursue knowledge. I needed to constantly test what I thought I knew about teaching.

via Education Week: A Teacher Finds Good in Testing.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  September 19, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Hi Mark

    I like the sentiment of this piece as far as it goes ….

    But the problem is many (most?) standarized tests do not actually capture the content of their courses — for example, math and science and writing, etc.

    Reasons for this include simple non-understanding and also difficulties in grading real content.

    Like TV news, they impose an “invisible subset” that is actually below standard, and most gradually accommodate to it — to the point that they rarely sense what they are missing in depth and context.

    Jerry Bruner used to say that one of the main things he learned from MACOS is that “curriculum” is mainly to help the adults understand so they can help children learn. The big difference was that the MACOS curriculum was really above important thresholds for both adults and children.



    • 2. Alan Kay  |  September 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

      I forgot to mention that her praise of the NY State Regents exams could be very important here. I don’t know whether they are still as good as they were 50 years ago, but I still remember vividly how impressed I was with them as a high school student at Brooklyn Tech in the late 50s.

      I liked taking tests and thought most of them “weak tea”. The best one I ever took for fun and content was the entrance exam to Brooklyn Tech, and the next most fun and content laden was the NY State Regents.

      It’s key that the English exam required essays for assessing writing abilities. California tried this noble experiment for a while in the 80s but gave it up as “too much work” plus protests by the teachers.

      Looking at the Wikipedia article on the NY Regents
      I see that they were inaugurated during the Civil War, and this explains why the difficult to grade parts of the Regents were maintained and carried through to the present day — teachers and parents were born into the “fact of the Regents”.

      But, the article also reports that just this year 3 of the 4 kinds of essays one had to write have now been eliminated, and this seems to be another part of the slide in standards that was reported about the content part of the Regents a few years ago.

      Too bad … this is one of the few tests I’ve ever encountered that really got to much of the actual intellectual processes that one was supposed to learn in the courses. It was difficult, but fair.




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