Tests Don’t Work. Get Over It. Move On.


This piece was written by a friend of mine Clark Aldrich, who also authors one of the best blogs around the blogosphere about digital education in the Knowledge Economy. He is also the simulations Guru. Check out his terrific blog at Unschooling Rules

For the later part of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth, the number of doctors rose dramatically. This is despite the fact that doctors did not help the patient, and in many cases made things worse. The truth was that there was a desperate need for doctors that overwhelmed the reality.

That brings us to today’s school-based technique of testing. The vision is to have concentrated moments of pure evaluation, where students are asked to demonstrate what they know.

And we want tests to work so badly. We love the idea of a simple to deploy, objective mechanism that can sort, motivate, and diagnose – the equivalent of quality control at a car manufacturing plant looking for defects in parts after they have been produced.

The only problem is that test do everything wrong.

Tests only test the test taker’s ability to prepare for and take tests. For example, there is no skill worth having that can be measured on a multiple choice exam.

Worse, tests emphasize exactly the wrong skills. They emphasize the memorization of massive amounts of facts that neurologically have a half-life of about twelve hours. They focus on short term rewards through cramming to compensate for a failure in long term development of value. It is no wonder we have the financial meltdown caused by successful students.

We have to swallow a hard pill. The issue is not, how do we make tests better. Or how to have more tests. Or have more parts of a school program (such as teacher’s worth) be based on tests.

The reality is, tests don’t work, except as a blunt control and motivation mechanism for the classroom to cover-up deeper fundamental failings, the academic equivalent of MSG or sugar in processed food. (It may be a piece of final irony that most teachers accept using test scores to rank students, but themselves resent being ranked by the same scores.) We have to instead begin imagining learning environments that involves no tests at all, and actually rely on real assessment and genuine help instead.

See The future is portfolios, not transcripts

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