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.