This semester I teach two Grade 11 University Prep Chemistry classes. I have 31 students in each class. This past Friday just before the Thanksgiving long weekend both of my classes wrote their first unit test. That means I took home 62 test papers.
I started to mark the tests, and after four hours I finished one set of tests. I took a thirty minute lunch break. After the four hours I was in no shape to continue marking the second set of tests. I dreaded marking the first set of 32 test papers that had questions which ranged from one word answers to paragraph long answers. It was those paragraph long answers that ate up most of my time. I thought, why did I do this to myself? Why did I design a test that would consume so much of my time? How could I have done this differently so that I have more free time to actually enjoy my Thanksgiving? What are the short term and long term benefits to students when they write tests? I forgot to mention that I also collected 62 lab reports each about 4 – 5 pages long, but I knew I was not going to get through those this weekend anyways.
The point I am trying to make is that I have to change the way I assess and evaluate how much students have learned at end of the unit. There is no point in complaining about how much marking I have to do, as if I am the only one doing it. But instead I have to think about the value of tests…in fact, I don’t see much value in written tests at all. For as long as schools have been around, students have been writing tests, and teachers like myself have been complaining about marking them. I am not so sure that writing tests is the way to go into the 21st century. With so much focus on assessment for learning and assessment as learning, we have to re-think how writing tests for 60 or more minutes in individual seats with all kinds of pressures benefits students in any way. The argument that we are preparing the students for college/university where they have to write midterms, finals and graduate admission tests is a weak argument for subjecting students under the pressures of 60 minute tests in our classes, or even 120 minute exams for that matter. Does writing tests in high school make one better at writing tests/exams in college/university? Does writing tests prepare students for success after high school? I don’t know if anyone ever did a study to answer this question, but my guess would be that writing tests in high school has little to no bearing on students’ success at college/university, or in students’ lives in general after high school. Feel free to disagree with me.
Although we hear things like ‘test-taking skills’, we rarely ever teach students these skills. And how many of us teachers take the time to go over the test thoroughly and discuss the answers with students, so that they can learn from their mistakes? It is for these reasons, and some others, that I do not believe that doing tests has many benefits for students after they graduate from high school. Instead, I am proposing a collaborative approach to assessing and evaluating how much students have learned at the end of the unit. I will write more about alternative end-of-the unit assessment in my next blog. For now, feel free to post a comment. Let me know how you feel about tests.