Educational Testing Should be Compared to a Health Check-up

       There's a lot of talk about testing in schools these days.

       Should we test students?  Is there too much testing?  What should be on the tests?  Are the tests too easy?  Are the tests too hard?  Do tests measure student ability?  Are high-stakes tests fair?  Standardized tests, the new SAT tests, college-readiness tests, ...and so on and so on.


     On a purely surface level, some students (and parents) do not like the big, end-of-course tests or the big standardized tests because they don't score well on these tests.  And that bad score leads to other negative and uncomfortable issues:
  • students feel bad
  • students feel not smart
  • course grade is negatively affected
  • looks bad on high school transcripts
  • negative affect on grade point average (G.P.A.)
  • negative affect on class rank
This opposition to this sort of testing has nothing to do with learning or the student's (or the parent's) feeling toward the test representing the quality of learning that took place during the course.  This opposition is purely about how the "after-effects" of the test will effect the student's stature, ranking, or reputation in some way.

       On a much different level, some people are concerned about the ability of the "big test" to accurately measure a student's academic ability in a particular subject area.  Alfie Kohn stated his many concerns about standardized testing in his 2000 article titled The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.  In it, he offers a history of the origins of current-day standardized testing and lays out some of the problems with our current system.  On the other side of the debate, is the book Defending Standardized Testing (2005) edited by Richard Phelps.  This book examines testing via multiple points of view such as: research on standardized testing, misconceptions about large-scale testing, high-stakes nature of some assessments, and the issue of the growing testing industry.

       I view educational testing in the same way I view going to the doctor for a health checkup.  The two extremes are too extreme.  Never seeing a doctor is bad because you might never know if you are developing a serious health issue until its too late.  And seeing a doctor for a full physical checkup everyday is not necessary because your health isn't going to change on a day-to-day basis.  But seeing a doctor (perhaps annually) and following his/her advice is necessary for good health.

       Educational testing is necessary because there has to be some sort of measure of academic ability so that we can fairly compare a student's ability with other students.  If students never take advantage of standardized testing they could go through 12 years of formal schooling believing that all is well only to enter college and to discover that they are unprepared for college-level work.  Educational testing should not be used to rate schools as if they were in some sort of horse race.  They should be used to measure true learning--which is the purpose of schooling in the first place.  They should be used to provide students, parents, and teachers with good information on what students know and understand and what they don't.

       We don't have competitions with other people on who has the lowest cholesterol level or the highest pulse...We shouldn't have competitions on who gets the highest grade on standardized tests.  They should be used for individual results.


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