Sunday, January 29, 2012

Testing is dead - RIP

Our school-wide goal this year is assessment and as I'm thinking about this goal in the light of 21st century skills it's clear that there is very little place for standardized testing where one student is compared with another.  When I was at school testing was something to be feared.  The first real test I took was the 11+ and it was to decide who would go to the grammar school and who would go to the secondary or technical schools.  There were a set number of grammar school places, so regardless of the general ability of the students taking the 11+, the same number each year ended up going to them.  I believe the same was true of the O'levels I took at 16 and the A'levels I took at 18, though I do believe that by the time I was at university this was changed so that it was possible for many students to be granted a First Class Honours degree one year, for example, but only a few to be granted it the following year depending on the students.  All the previous exams before this seemed to be a way of sorting out "the best of the bunch" who could go on further - and this "best" was entirely decided by the number of places available.

In the 21st century it seems traditional testing can no longer assess the new skills we want our students to develop.  We know that some students do better with extra time, some students do better when they collaborate with others, and most do better when they know the assessment task beforehand - things that were considered "cheating" in my day but nowadays we realize give students fairer opportunities to show what they know, understand and can do.  But today, I think, we need to be assessing more than this.  If the skills we are trying to develop in our students are those of collaboration, creativity and inquiry, we need different ways of assessing.  Just as important as finding out what students know, understand and can do is finding out what students have done to go further in their explorations and the new questions they are asking as a result, what new knowledge they have created and what actions they have taken as a result of using the knowledge or skills they have developed.  If our assessments don't take account of the skills that we say we value for the 21st century, aren't we just giving students and their parents the message that these skills are not really very important?

Creativity by its very nature cannot really be tested.  It often involves collaboration and this is difficult to assess too. Collaboration involves listening to and taking account of multiple perspectives and it involves sharing our ideas with others.  In the PYP we talk about action being one of the five essential elements - it's the way students apply their learning and the action that students take as a result of their learning may well happen out of school.  Again it's very difficult to assess this, we may never actually see it or perhaps it might only be apparent after the event.  So as we continue to work on our assessment goals this year at school I'm asking myself the question:  what new ways of assessing are we exploring in the light of the skills these students will need for their futures?

Photo Credit:  Taking a test by Renato Ganoza Attribution 

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