I had some great conversation this week around assessment and what the heck that looks like anymore. There is much confusion but seems to be some agreement that the days of large quantities of marks are passed and that testing should not be the be all and end all. As a matter of fact – between #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) on twitter and the two Pathways workshops I attended it appears there aren’t too many tests in elementary school anymore.
I think this is a problem.
Weird huh. A year ago I wouldn’t have said that.
What I have learned over the past few years is that test taking is still a skill required by students entering secondary and post secondary school, as is note taking. I used to fight it by saying “I am not giving tests, they don’t do any good for students”. I now think on the contrary to some extent.
I think we can all agree that students will not write tests in their working world – and that test taking is not a skill they need for tomorrow. But until there is a system wide change in education, test taking is a skill they need today. Not that I agree with tests or formal exams. I really don’t. It’s difficult to get an accurate measurement from tests. However, tests could be a good benchmark.
Either way – I continue to have grade 9 students visit showing me their test marks. Very factual and knowledge based tests – but tests nonetheless.
I dis-serviced them by not testing them last year.
OK, so I am going to argue with myself out loud here. Part of me thinks the soft skills I modeled (resiliency, initiative, organization) would allow them to adapt to any environment. But I am not sure how many of them developed all these skills to their fullest potential in grade 8.
So my questions to you:
- Do you give tests?
- Why not?
- Does it depend on grade?
- Does it depend on subject matter?
I’d love some more insight into other people’s practices.
Photo Source: http://maui.hawaii.edu/tlc/wp-content/uploads/sites/53/2013/11/testing.jpg
7 Responses for this post
Great thoughts here.
Like you, I often find my thoughts swaying from one side to the other. My recent reads about learning suggest that testing is an important part of the learning process. The key is using testing for learning and not simply to assess what has been learned. This means assessing frequently and with low stakes. Research suggests that the hippocampus (spell?) requires spaced practice in the form of tests (either self-testing or by the teacher) to build connections in the brain and move those thoughts from short term memory to long term memory.
It is important to assess using much more than traditional tests and provide multiple opportunities for learning and growth. However, frequent traditional testing that combines new topics with old topics, is something we can’t write off simply because we are trying to be innovative.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts as we navigate through the muddy waters of assessment.
As a grade 3 teacher, this is something I have given a lot of thought as well.
First some facts about my teaching:
1) I have not given a single test yet this year
2) In the past, I have (and somewhat proudly) given math tests before and after each unit of study using questions from previous years EQAO tests. By the time my kids wrote EQAO in May/June they had done over 300 multiple choice and open response questions.
About point #2: Is that overkill? Not really. I used a pre test to see what the kids already knew. Like Kyle said in his response, this is important as testing is a part of assessment that should drive instruction.
Is that overkill? Not really since it was just a natural part of my program and thought they wrote a lot of tests, it really wasn’t a big deal. *AND* this was at a school with all the demographics and low scoring data to make some teachers perhaps shy away from this type of rigorous approach.
About point #1: Why the pendulum swing from heavy testing to nothing? Well, I don’t know where to fit the testing in my routine. I am taking a PBL / inquiry and problem solving approach and I need all the time I can get to provoke, observe, interpret and prepare to move kids forward. I am wrestling with making sense of a totally different approach to teaching, math included, and the assessment looks different too. Much more observation and conversation. I guess every worksheet we do on skills towards a larger task becomes a test of those discrete and knowledge based skills.
Final point: I am actually having a cumulative review and mini EQAO math test next week. My grade 3 partners are going to have the kids play a bunch of math review games of the concepts taught them have them sit down and do a pre- and post- EQAO style Math test assessing the three strands we have worked on so far.
Why? I want to see how well they have retained all the information. I want them to practice. And, yes, I want them to have some test prep. I want them to know what they are going to be doing in May/June so then can approach the test (and other tests) with confidence and a “I can do this” mentality.
To test or not to test? I am constantly reflecting on this piece too, particularly as I shift towards unscripted classrooms where student agendas thrive.
Another great post, Brian. Thanks for keeping my thoughts visible and yours too.
I agree with my friend Kyle (and you, Brian) here. It’s all about balance. We must stop the pendulum from swinging . Tests / no tests, inquiry / knowledge transmission, drill math/ problem solving, small group/large group instruction, using technology/ not using it (which is the best definition of blended learning I’ve heard. Thanks @seanmcdade). I find many people agree about a balance, but their classroom actions mirror one side or the other. Striking that balance appropriately and authentically is the art of good teaching,
Brian, the fact you are again thinking about how your practices have affected your past students and reflecting on changing your practice again in order to help them be successful at the next level is the demonstration of good teaching. We tend to get caught up in our own beliefs and practices and don’t always remember to come back to the important part…what is good for students.
I agree that in general, the majority of students don’t do tests in their everyday lives after school, but for those students who need the skills to enter post secondary, showing them the process and giving them skills in order to perform better is important. I’m still with you, exactly what the test shows us at this point should only be a guideline, a base to show you the general knowledge the student has gained up to and including that moment in time.
I love the talk in the other comments about balance. Tests or test like activities for pre- assessment and knowledge retention are key, but students should always be able to use other forms of presentation to demonstrate their learning. Offering a program that allows students to gain skills in many areas is key.
Facts can be retained, facts can be forgotten, information can be found everywhere. The process of learning however is consistent from birth until death. Keep reflecting, find a balance, this discussion isn’t over yet!
I agree with everyone’s view that balance is the key when it comes to using traditional testing as assessment.
That said, we know from experience that universities and colleges are not early adapters when it comes to reform at the high school level. I think it’s a safe assumption that traditional tests will remain at the post-secondary level, and students need to learn how to prepare for all aspects of that testing. I deal with so many students who deal with anxiety issues when it comes to testing. Hopefully, through some testing at the high school level, they’ve gained some of the skills that will help them succeed at the post-secondary level. These are essential skills that will transfer to the workplace as they deal with work pressures and deadlines. The preparation around the test is as important as the test itself.
Great post, I have been struggling with this issue for three or four years. When I started teaching, I routinely assigned tests because that was what I knew from past experience. The consistent experience that I saw was struggling students regularly failing tests. From this experience came the development of fixed mindsets (“I suck at math”). I also agree with Ron that anxiety can really disrupt students and their learning.
I struggle because, I agree with you that I am potentially doing students a disservice by not “testing”, while at the same time finding very little value in the marks I gain from the tests. I have received feedback this year where some students are feeling unprepared for testing in high school, but these students were, at times, unprepared in my class as well.
I have been finding more success with short (one question) evaluations. These can act as assessment for learning and they are addressed through direct feedback, and generally no mark. The process of preparing for a test remains, but the outcome has changed. Student can check in with me on an ongoing basis, we can correct small mistakes in real time and work towards developing a growth mindset. This is definitely a work in progress, but I am optimistic that it can provide the right “balance” in assessment.
This is one of those topics that continually leaves me with more questions than answers, but that is half the fun I guess.
Brian, I have not done testing in my math class for a couple of years now. I find that doing quick assessments after a given concept to check understanding works best for my students. We also do culminating tasks in a project type format. I believe that my students till have the necessary skills to adapt back to a testing classroom if needed. I know of a few secondary class rooms who do not do inquiry or the teacher uses only 1 particular textbook. Does that mean by not using 1 particular textbook or having an inquiry based classroom that I am not preparing them for high school? Am I doing them a disservice by allowing them to evaluate situations; view different perspectives; question information; evaluate bias; problem solve for multiple solutions? You mentioned that some of the tests that you see tend to be based on mostly recall or application information. My question here might be who is really doing the disservice here? I’m hoping that the skills I’m trying to teach them; problem solving, critical thinking, effective researching, developing grit, etc. will prepare them for most situations – testing or not.