TESTING THE TESTING CULTURE

I am not sure what to make of the apparent scramble of students around the world who are trying to organise their own SAT exams (or equivalent) since schools can not conduct the usual exams, and the majority of colleges and universities are saying they don’t need these test scores in the times of CoVid. Part of me is saying: it’s about time; another part says: how did we get here?

For so long (too long) we have told our students to work hard, do homework, cram late nights, review, revise, get ready every way you can because the test/exam at the end of the year(s) is the most important part of your school experience. There is so much wrong with that … why can’t the holistic learning experience be the most important part? At school you do the learning and then get tested – in life, you get tested and learn from it. Somehow the destination became more important than the journey; and we know how wrong that is. Maybe CoVid is going to swing the pendulum away from textbook-style learning, away from information-based learning, and away from standardised testing as a means of describing who a student is.

I could talk all day about the obvious inadequacies of standardized testing – they just aren’t fair on so many levels: they are culturally unfair, unfair for students with disabilities, unfair for students who learn differently, unfair for teachers who want to be creative but need to keep that end-of-year exam front-&-centre, unfair because teacher-practice is assessed by exam results, unfair where some schools teach to a test for a school-ego uplift, unfair that they don’t assess for life-skills or values, unfair because the rich can buy their way to better scores. Unjust, inequitable, prejudiced, biased, discriminatory. preferential, one-sided … UNFAIR.

I remember getting my final results after an Australian Grade 12 education … as a number. That was it. One number. After all that time at school, all that learning, somehow, I was able to be evaluated as one single number. Whoever thought you could give me a number was either really (REALLY) intelligent or totally out of their mind. As a learner, I wanted to be assessed on my improvements, my mistakes, my creativity and problem-solving skills, my ability to think critically and think in systems. I also wanted to be assessed on my integrity, my value to a community, my ability to be empathetic and equitable. But instead they gave me a number that came from results in a few exams.

When I left university for a gap year, working for an NGO in Orissa, India – I quickly realised that all that school, and all those exams, meant very little (actually: NOTHING). Life started testing me in so many different challenging ways – and I, for the first time, started learning. The gap year turned into a gap decade because I knew there was so much LIFE to experience and so much to learn, before I could be a teacher.

YES! THROW THE EXAMS AWAY!!! The universities don’t need them anyway. Put standardised testing in a box of broken education relics from an antiquated learning model. Let’s start assessing students for who they really are – let’s start providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their life-skills and values. Let students talk about their learning, the challenges, the mistakes and successes. Let them tell us who they are as learners now and what they have done with their learning up until now. Schools need to move away from the point-focus on exams and start providing students with authentically real-world assessments – with project-based learning, with portfolios of their learning journey, with written, spoken and videoed descriptions of who they are as people … not numbers. The ‘Testing Culture’ has been tested – and sadly (but not surprisingly) it has failed.