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Why This School Teacher Thinks Tests Are Really Stupid

tests

Please tell me of one single job on this entire planet where you would have to recall facts all by yourself, without talking to anyone, without LOOKING at anyone, without the help of resources and without the help of the internet or technology.

That’s right.

There are no such jobs.

Well, if there are, there’s not many. Yet, we make kids sit silently at their desks so they can ‘recall‘ information. How far from reality is that?

Testing Kids Says, “I Don’t Trust You”
Aside from tests being completely irrelevant to life as we know it, tests are also telling children that we don’t trust you.

Ok, I know not every kid pays attention in class and not every student cares about school. There needs to be some sort of way to differentiate between which kids are learning, which kids are not, which kids are really quick to get things and which kids need more help… But, regardless of the kid, giving a test, basically tells a student that “I don’t trust you.” I don’t trust that you’ve been paying attention and I don’t trust that you’ve learned anything. I don’t trust that you’re doing the best you can do. I mean, with an attitude like that, it’s no wonder that some kids really end up not caring about school. If they consistently don’t do well on exams, what’s the point in them even trying? Their enthusiasm has been shot down long ago and yet they still have to go through the motions… what choice do they have?

Testing Kids Says, “We Don’t Trust Teachers”
If you ask any teacher who has gotten to know their students over the first month or two of school, you can pretty much ask them what level of achievement each student will get on any given exam, and 99% of the time, the teacher’s guess is pretty darn accurate. All of the teachers I know are smart, understanding and fully capable of doing their job, yet, nobody trusts the teacher’s best judgement. Tests and exams are constantly being revised and reworded to make the test more ‘fair‘. The way that teachers mark tests are constantly under revision and changing to ‘make it better‘. But, really, nothing is changing. Actually, the thing that changes the most is that teachers have to spend hours and hour creating, modifying and marking exams, when really, we would just rather get on with teaching kids cool stuff. Making a teacher give a test is the schools saying, “We don’t trust our teachers.

Testing Kids Says, “We Don’t Trust Your School OR Your Teachers”
But, schools have to give tests so that they can get their funding, especially if they’re state or government schools. Essentially, the government is saying, “We don’t trust your schools, so you need to give your kids tests.”

It’s a system where trust is broken on all levels and somehow everyone is supposed to feel like it’s ‘fair‘. Nobody talks about the broken trust in the school system because it’s the way it’s always been and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean.

Rewards and Punishment Have Major Pitfalls
There have been countless studies proving the major pitfalls of using rewards and punishments. In the case of tests, a good grade is a reward and a bad grade is a punishment. Studies have shown that children who are given an activity with promise of a reward, will quickly loose interest in that activity if the reward is removed. However, the children who were given an activity with no reward and were participating in the activity purely out of intrinsic motivation, were more likely to continue with the activity. Unfortunately, the system of rewards and punishments is so engrained in the education system, that once a child has gotten so used to the rewards and punishment system, that it’s very difficult for them to do ANYTHING without the promise of a reward or the threat of a punishment. We can’t just take away tests now, because a lot of kids would loose motivation to learn anything at all (maybe). But, maybe it’s something we can work towards in the future.

So, What Should We Do Instead?
Of course, we do need to ‘test‘ kids on something and the system won’t change over night. There needs to be a way to guide kids into career choices and there needs a way for employers and universities to have an idea about which kids they want to recruit. But, kids today don’t need to be sitting at a desk recalling facts, or working independently to come to their own conclusions. They need to have access to each other. They need access to technology. The days of rote learning (memorizing everything) are over! Maybe they still have some value somewhere, like for sentimental value… but seriously dude… they are over! I just gave a year 11 test in Cell Biology. The kids were learning the function of the cell. (Oh God, some of the kids get so anxious before exams, poor things) Please tell me, why do they need to memorize the name of some obscure blob on a picture diagram and then label what that obscure blob does? If somebody asked ME what the golgi apparatus did and I didn’t know, do you know what I would do? I would just google it… wouldn’t you?

Today’s tests shouldn’t be about what kids know. The tests should be about HOW our kids can find information. How can you work together to draw conclusions and come up with ideas? Assignments are much better than exams and tests because in assignments, at least kids have the opportunity to work together and to draw information from outside sources. Some kids do much better on tests. Heck, I was the queen of using my short term memory to get good grades on tests. Did doing well on exams help me in the long run? Oh, I don’t think so. I rather wish I had developed my skills to be a better problem solver and investigator. Tests can be a really unfair way of judging kids’ intelligence, but their performance in these exams can be improved by looking for a tutor that can help develop new skills and consolidate their previous knowledge.

In 2002-ish, when I was traveling with my university sailing team to a regatta, I remember driving past another university somewhere in Maryland. Our sailing coach said, “Hey, you see that school there, they don’t get any grades, they don’t take any tests!” I’m pretty sure I cocked my head sideways and thought, “What the hell? How does that even work?” Well, years and years later, I can see EXACTLY how it works. Kids learn because they want to learn, not because they’re learning just to pass some stupid test!

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