Last week, I gave my students a summative benchmark assessment that was intended to measure a specific set of English/Language Arts standards and find out how well my students remembered the objectives and how well I taught it to them. I dutifully administered this district level test that I had no hand in creating except in helping identify the standards that were covered in the particular unit. I then, again dutifully, scanned the tests into our data system and then spent time reviewing the results and figuring out which standards I needed to reteach in advance of the impending state test in April. I even went to the next step and went over tricky or troublesome questions with my students in a snazzy SMART board, interactive lesson.
What was I doing? Was I spending my valuable class time in the best manner possible? The simple answer is no. Like any good teacher, I can reframe the question and ask if the time my students spent on figuring out why they chose some answers poorly was valuable, and the answer would be a guarded yes. However, no matter which way I spin things or tell myself I am doing the best that I can with limited resources and time, I am not measuring my students knowledge effectively; Not by a long shot.
I have long been an advocate for changing how we test our students. The only thing filling in bubbles will actually gain students in the long term is carpal-tunnel syndrome. Bubble tests can only measure recall, low-level thinking. Bubble tests do not measure the kind of skills students will need for their future. What can be done? A few years ago I published an article on portfolio assessment and I brought to light research that indicates that in order to measure authentic learning, you have to use a more authentic measurement that evaluates more than the ability to fill in bubbles, but genuinely observes how well a student evaluates, even creates new content and blends their learning into something new.
Filling in bubbles on a standardized test (don’t get me started on discussing cultural bias in these tests) is not a skill, it is a chore that students do not look forward to and very often create patterns to avoid taking them. It is time we assess our students by the work they produce every day. We need to measure them in their ability to create and innovate. Just like teachers should not be judged by a number, students shouldn’t be placed according to their number.
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.