‘Test’ tends to be a dirty word. In the classroom it is a looming threat, in congress a shield, and in the Assessment Center our bread-and-butter. Few four letter words conjure such strong polar reactions. Thus it is a hard subject to brooch with how emotional discusses become. It is my belief however that testing has a solid, important, and needed place in education.
No matter how you look at it,a test is how we decide the value of someone’s education. Not to say how good of a teacher, class, book, or how much money they spent but rather how well they communicate what they learned in addition to what they already knew. To this end it is the ability of the learner to demonstrate understanding.
This means several things. First it means that there is no one-size-fits-all test template. One class may have a standardized test and another could be an essay and another a sculpture made of chicken nuggets. Because of this it is hard to argue what exactly a test should be or even how it should operate.
Even with modern technology it is difficult to say if a test really measures learning. Then there is the political pressure saying education depends too much on testing to determine educational quality. Of course there is also the issue about whether we are teaching to the test or testing to teach? Are we just making sure that students can pass a single test?
The answer isn’t (and never will be) an easy one. Worse yet the answer will change with technology, culture, and time. Just more tests for education to face I assume.
That all said, I stand firmly on the side of testing. Not in the sense that it is the be-all-end-all of education but in the sense that I would rather not try to punch a nail into a wall or open a can of soup with my teeth. Testing is a tool. A tool that can be used correctly or incorrectly as any other tool.
Testing’s place is alongside other educational tools like a white board, calculator, or projector (all of which can be overused). The important thing is to find when testing is appropriate and how it is appropriate to use the results.
Probably the greatest problem facing classrooms and teachers therein is how an administrator and the public look at test scores. If a student makes an average grade (a C remember) is that good or bad? Wouldn’t normal be good? Aren’t students supposed to be normal?
But then the greatest problem for the public and administrators is to know how to better education. Hearing a student knows a subject and having a national test score support that claim are very different things. How do you know if you are doing any good at all unless you have some way to measure or show difference between techniques?
This is the defense of testing—there is no reliable other choice to determine utility of learning. The good thing is that testing is so varied in and of itself that it doesn’t mean the end of good education. This is the virtue of the word’s meaning: a challenge in which a learner demonstrates knowledge of a subject. There’s no mention that it must be on a computer or that it must have ‘True-False’ question sets. It is whatever best allows a learner to demonstrate their knowledge.
To that end I defend testing because it is how we measure what we do. It is how we know we are doing what we need to. However I make it my duty that the data we collect means something, is understood, and is constantly checked for error. Without that a test means very little.
Please join me as I delve deeper into each topic point of this article and build upon my defense of testing in an ongoing study. Posts will be placed online typically weekly regarding this subject. In time I hope to build on my rough argument till I craft a strong empirical argument.
Thank you for reading.