I have had the privilege to visit hundreds of class rooms and schools over the last 32 years. Unfortunately, one of the more common phrases I have heard from teachers at the end of class (or written on the board) is ‘be sure you know this (material); it will be on the test (tomorrow)’. Why do teachers say this? The message this phrase sends, and reinforces, is that we go to school to learn so we can do well on tests. It reduces the enormous and complicated task of educating our youth into a very narrow view of learning. Students then believe that the purpose of schooling is to do well on tests and that then demonstrate learning has taken place. I believe that a more realistic phrase should be "Be sure you know this; you will be using it soon".
As an Education Professor, whenever I have asked my students why they wanted to go into teaching, I never once heard a response such as “I can’t wait to see how well they do on a test”. Never did they say “I am drawn to teaching because I love to see a student faces light up on test days”. More often the answer to that questions was in the realm of the ‘joy of watching children succeed’ or the ‘love and passion’ of a particular subject area.
No wonder so many young college students choose not to go into teaching; or those that do frequently leave the profession before five years. They are consumed by testing, whether it is standardized or tests of their own making. Ask a teacher what they did last night and the answer frequently is “I corrected papers or tests”. Rarely do you hear them say with enthusiasm, “I was up developing really cool lessons or projects for the students to create.”
This is not to say there should not be tests or standardized testing. Tests are necessary for a variety of different reasons. They can provide feedback to both the student and the teacher. They can be used as one indicator among many that show evidence of the gap in equality. They can give a snapshot on student progress. However tests should be well thought out on how they are used, how much time is spent preparing and taking, whether there is a cultural bias, and how much do they actually contribute as an indicator of student progress.
The true test of a students learning comes as they go about their daily business, from when they are a youngster, to their life as an adult. When they go to the store they have to be aware of a variety of math skills to manage their budget. To be an active participant in our democracy they have to understand our history (the good and the bad) as well as the continually changing geo-political world. As we face global changes in our climate they must understand chemistry, biology, and the interconnections of our environment and world. They must understand how to use and manipulate language(s) effectively in order to communicate with others or to tell their own narrative. To be active participants in their own health care and our health care system, they must understand a wide variety of biological functions, nutritional information, as well as various math skills. None of this will come at them in the form of a written test.
Teachers, challenge yourself to say something different when a student asks if something will be on a test. Try a response such as “We both need to know how well you understand this, however it is much more likely you will be using it in your future outside of school." Let them know that yes, there is a need to assess their progress and test may be one indicator of that. Therefore, whatever you teach, questions related to that may appear in a test or another form assessment.
Parents, when your child is doing home work or studying, ask them what they are studying and why. If they cant’ answer the why or they say it is for the test tomorrow, think of an example of how the concept of what they are Learning comes into play in your daily life. An example may not be readily apparent, however if you ponder it for a while it is more than likely that a real life example can be found.
The more we tie our teaching and learning to the real world, the more relevant school becomes to a young person. It will be seen as a necessary means to a future rather than a series of tests, hoops and grades to endure. When this happens, attendance goes up, student management becomes easier and the teachers passion for teaching is fueled.