Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tests Only Measure Other Tests

I have always thought that there is something quite disturbing about testing in the context of education. It's probably because the testing system is used primarily to sort students rather than to develop a sense of whether they understand or know something. In the UK, a test is referred to as an exam which seems to denote better the idea of examining a student's understanding or knowledge of a particular idea. To examine seems a nobler and more useful goal than does to test.

Many years ago when i was a grad student I read somewhere that tests only measure other tests. At first glance this seems like a fairly innocuous statement but the more you think about it the more sense it makes. When I was teaching fourth grade in the UK in the early '70s we changed a reading test one year. The same reading test had been used throughout the school (and all the schools in the entire city of Bristol) for many years so it was decided to use a new test. When the new test results came in it was found that all the students in the city had gained two years in their reading age. Since reading instruction hadn't changed it must have been a much easier reading test but it still made everyone feel really good !!!!!

The same happens eery time you adopt a new test or  testing system such as SBAC. Very seldom re two tests exactly the same and more often than not the new test is more difficult than the old test. This is often done with the somewhat naive belief than making the test more difficult will improve instruction and make the students appear brighter. Usually this results in declining test scores and yet more blame placed upon the education system for falling standards.

But not so in Scotland where a maths test was given  that proved to be too difficult. Instead of blaming teachers and the education system, as we would undoubtedly have done here, the  Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) acknowledged the test was too difficult and adjusted the scores accordingly.

We cannot raise standards by making tests, or exams, more difficult. We must improve the way we teach and the way we motivate students to learn. 

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