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Testing goes off topic

June 1, 2012
Ned Johnson

A recent blog in The Washington Post relayed growing protests surrounding high-stakes testing. The post points out a number of issues related to using standardized tests to evaluate anything from teacher effectiveness to a student's college readiness. One of the most alarming facets to me? “Assessment experts have warned that standardized tests are not designed for such purposes, but they are being used by reformers who either don’t believe the experts or are ignoring them.” 
  
Among the very first "standardized tests" was the Binet Scale created by the great French educator Alfred Binet, he of the widely known Stanford-Binet IQ test.  But, Binet designed his test not as one to assess intelligence. Instead, he designed it as "a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth or wag a finger at schools but rather as a way to identify children who needed more help.   
 
Passing a test shouldn't mean "you are done" or "you're perfect" but rather "you have demonstrated mastery or competency of THIS material and are ready for whatever is next.” 
  
Many good teachers use tests or quizzes as ONE means of assessment.  It's not the only one.  Moreover, teachers can look at HOW or WHY students miss questions. 
  
In short, a student who "passes" a standardized test has shown competency on the material of that test (presuming she didn't guess well or he didn't cheat."  But, for the student who hasn't passed, all we know is he or she hasn't SHOWN mastery. And, WHY that is requires much more insight than a multiple-choice test can reveal.  It requires the skill of an actual teacher. 
 
Binet also added that:  
"Some recent thinkers…[have affirmed] that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we must try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing." 

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