GUEST POST: Why Is There So Much Pushback From Parents, Teachers, And Students About Testing?
Guest post by: Phil Bressler
Phil Bressler is a teacher in Baltimore County. He has spent the last 10 years building successful AP Psychology and AP Economics programs. He has increased the number of students in the program while maintaining the same pass rate.
Standardized tests related to the Common Core have met with a huge amount of pushback. These high-pressured tests are holding parents, teachers, and students accountable in a fashion that none of them enjoy. The tests do not do themselves a favor when they do not match the curriculum. Once that happens, all three of these stakeholders are going to scream foul!! With that starts the movement that tests are unfair and that they are not a good judgement of student learning.
The biggest concern I hear from teachers about standardized testing is that these tests take away the creativity to teach. That these teachers do not want to teach to the test. Yet all teachers start the day with an objective of what they want students to learn; and that in itself is teaching to the test, since you want the kids to understand your objective by the end of the day.
From my perspective as an AP teacher, the fact that my students have to take a standardized test has helped me grow as a teacher. As my program has increased in number of students, I have had to figure out ways to help different students be successful in my class. This has forced me to understand how we learn so that I can better instruct my students and put them in a position to be successful on the AP exam.
As teachers, one of the things that we have done a poor job communicating is that tests are a learning tool. I often find that students are just concerned with their grade and do not use the test to correct and learn from their mistakes. Here are 5 ways that I think tests can be helpful to students and teachers:
1) Tests are a good indicator of knowledge
Often students will tell me that the test is not a good indicator of their knowledge in the class. However, when I sit down with them one on one (after they have already reviewed the test with a partner), I often realize that the test was actually a great indicator of their knowledge. That while they thought they were making sloppy mistakes, they really did not have a total command of the concepts.
2) Taking a test multiple times leads to improvement
To strengthen the idea that tests are a way to learn, I sometimes allow students to retake tests. So, for example, after the midterm all my students spend 45 minutes with a partner reviewing each others’ mistakes. After that, if the student wanted to come after class to re-take the midterm, they had to write test corrections for each wrong question. The test corrections were their pass to retake the midterm. 15/18 students improved their midterm score, which to me demonstrates the power of learning from the exam.
3) Students find it helpful to take practice tests
Another example: Any time I am going to give an exam, I give the students a practice exam that they can take at home. With the practice exam I include an answer sheet so that students can check their work and learn from their mistakes. The day of the exam I am in my room 45 minutes before school starts to answer any questions that they have from the practice test. In surveys that I do with my students they feel that these practice tests helps prepare them for the exams (and research suggests that in this case, they may be right).
4) Tests can help teachers plan what material to cover
A test, of course, is also a great assessment for teachers. The other day my students did poorly on a Loanable funds test. That forced me to incorporate loanable funds in my lesson today, with a couple of quick questions to ensure that the students understand the material. I will post multiple-choice questions and have students write their response on their personal whiteboard. We then hold them up so I can be sure that the class understands each concept.
5) Feedback after a struggle leads to learning
Learning happens when we struggle and are provided with feedback. Tests (quizzes) provide both the student and the teacher with the feedback that is needed to be successful. To make this feedback valuable, however, assessments need to be returned quickly, and students need to be given class time to examine their results.
I realize that this is not a typical teacher response to the question of testing; I would love to hear what others think.