What are tests for?

The last line in an article from The Washington Post was a quote from a Chinese official: “The habit Chinese students have formed is that they only memorize things but not absorb them. They forget about everything once the test is over.”

Most people think tests are there to measure students’ progress. That is not the only reason for tests, but some think it is.

The measurement of progress is reported to many people:

1. The student. This is often skipped in standardized tests designed to measure the teachers or the schools more than individual students, but the tests that are most important to the student should be reported to him.

2. The student’s parents. Obviously, this step should be done only if the student is a minor.

3. The teacher. Usually, the teacher grades the test, but with electronic and standardized testing something else grades the test. As a teacher, I’ve often used test and quiz results to modify reviews for the final exam and to change the emphasis the next time I teach a course.

4. Where the student goes next. This could be a job or simply the next semester’s course. Usually, the report is only a single grade.

5. Society. This helps judge the quality of the teacher of the school. It rarely names individual teachers or students.

A second goal of tests is to help student learning. Students often think they know a subject until they are tested on it. If the student doesn’t get feedback, ideally quickly, that student will have difficulty learning. How the students use the results of the test often determines how well he does in school. Graded homework, quizzes, and tests give the students an idea of how much they know. If they only study to do well on tests and forget about it afterward, they are not studying properly. Their actual learning will be incidental, not the goal of the work they are doing.

Unfortunately, American students have formed the same habits as Chinese students. If we want any real progress in education, students need to know things after they take their tests.

 

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