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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tests don't work. Get over it. Move on.

For the later part of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth, the number of doctors rose dramatically. This is despite the fact that doctors did not help the patient, and in many cases made things worse. There was a desperate need for doctors that overwhelmed the reality.

That brings us to today’s school-based technique of testing. The vision is to have concentrated moments of pure evaluation, where students are asked to demonstrate what they know.

And we want tests to work so badly. We love the idea of a simple to deploy, objective mechanism that can sort, motivate, and diagnose - the equivalent of quality control at a car manufacturing plant looking for defects.

The only problem is that test do everything wrong.

Tests only test the test taker’s ability to prepare for and take tests. For example, there is no skill worth having that can be measured through a multiple-choice exam.

Worse, tests emphasize exactly the wrong skills. They emphasize the memorization of massive amounts of facts that neurologically have a half-life of about twelve hours. They focus on short-term rewards through cramming to compensate for a failure in long-term development of value. It is no wonder we have financial meltdowns caused by successful students.

We have to swallow a hard pill. The issue is not, how do we make tests better? Or how can we have more tests? Or how do we have more parts of a school program (such as teacher’s worth) be based on tests?

The reality is, tests don’t work, except as a blunt control and motivation mechanism for the classroom, the academic equivalent of MSG or sugar in processed food. We have to instead begin imagining learning environments that involve no tests at all, and rely on real assessment and the creation of genuine value instead.

See also: Six Toxic Assumptions of Standardized Testing


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  2. I would urge students, employers, and educators to visit this site to read the entire blog.  This blog addresses the issues I've been having with our own education system.  Sometimes it's easy to agree with comments someone is making when you don't have a lot of knowledge for the topic or when you feel you actually agree.  Knowing this, I went into reading this blog consciously aware that I needed to be as objective as possible and looking for arguments that counter the bloggers opinion; however, I couldn't agree more with what Mr. Alrich states.
    There are many students in school who focus primarily on their GPA.  I have never understood this.  Likely, my lack of understanding has come from different life experience than most "traditional" students haven't had.  That is, I've worked since I was 16 years old until the present.  In my ten years of work experience I have yet to be asked my GPA.  Simply because...It. Doesn't. Matter.  There is such an emphasis on getting an education.  More doors are opened for those with an eduction than those with 10+ years work experience by the simple prerequisite in the job description that requires a certain degree to even apply.  Ugh.  This is extremely frustrating considering that what we learn in school (unless in an extremely applied program) is out the door before we are.  It is frustrating, expensive, and unfortunately is making new college grads less marketable when we do complete our degrees because all we have to show for it is the degree itself.  Essentially, "most" students graduating with a higher education degree have little to no applied or actual experience and training.  We spend these years meeting the criteria of the class, breath it out at the end of the semester, and do it again, and again.
    I do believe; however, this is not true for all programs.  Especially trades and personally speaking the education program at ISU.  The education program at ISU is very much applied.  Even this course I am currently taking is more useful and valuable to me than the last six classes I have taken in my graduate program which have been wholly theory based and test evaluated.  It's frustrating to students and employers that so much emphasis is given to what we can remember for an examine rather than what we can to do to contribute to our society as a "skill" when we get done with our educational training.

  3. JDalton14,

    I agree that there are some great programs.


    I believe we would be better off not by necessarily getting rid of tests, but by "starting over." Let's assume test don't work, and then carefully and rigorously rebuild the case (and best practices).

  4. What about career-hands on based education? Like simulating real-world skills and interests instead of text-booking everything? Just an idea.

  5. I believe we will see much richer assessment tools in the next few years, including along the lines you are describing.