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Are Traditional Tests and Quizzes the Most Effective Way of Assessing Learning?


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In the weeks leading up to winter break, anxiety about testing ramps up. Students can be seen in the halls with pages of notes or frantically typing on their computers, doing last minute cramming for tests or quizzes that are terrifyingly important. To to an extent, testing serves as an important and helpful indicator of whether a student knows course material, how effective are constant tests as ways of assessing learning and ensuring concrete material mastery?

    The debate about the effectiveness of testing is nationwide, with the President’s recent signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which overrode Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and attempts to provide more flexibility in how and when tests are administered, and spearheads a new campaign to change the common core curriculum. Obama stated that too many tests were becoming a problem in the nation's public schools, arguing that the tests “didn't always consider the specific needs of each community. It often forced schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn't always produce the kinds of results that we wanted to see."

Though private schools like Friends do not have to worry about meeting national standards, many private schools still administer high stakes tests for their courses, which determine a large part of the student’s grade. Though knowing how to take a test is a fundamental part of education in the world today, are constant tests and quizzes the best way to assess learning all the time? The object of a test or quiz is to assess what a student really knows, and filling in blanks, bubbles, or tailored short answer questions is not always the answer. These similarly structured tests often lead to frantic short term memorization of terms, which are promptly forgotten by students soon after the test/quiz is administered. To ensure that true thinking and understanding of the concept is reached, many researchers have appealed to teachers to weave in alternative assessments in the sea of tests and quizzes. These alternative assessments would appeal to different learning styles with open-ended projects, experiments, presentations, portfolios, and performances to appeal to different types of learners, as well as measure the other aspects of education beyond getting answers right. According to education researcher Gerald W. Bracey, PhD, qualities that tests cannot measure include "creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity." Though a grade on a test is a helpful indicator of whether or not a student understands material, should that really be the prevalent assessment method across disciplines?

The world of constant tests and quizzes becomes one of stress, pressure, and the development of a more narrow-minded focus on memorization, “getting it right,” and “getting an A,” instead of developing creative and long-lasting ways of understanding and retaining material. In an exploration by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the “potential weaknesses” of testing all the time were shown to outweigh pros, with pitfalls of tests including: “Cannot be used to measure certain learning outcomes, such as creativity, oral communication, and social skills, may communicate the inaccurate message that recognizing the ‘right answer’ is the primary goal of education, may encourage teaching that focuses on learning facts rather than on understanding concepts and on thoughtful application of knowledge.” While the occasional tests and quizzes help both teachers and students reach an understanding of how much a student understands the material, having traditional testing count for such a large part of a student’s grade, and be such a prevalent part of the curriculum, though helpful, risks the development of a more narrow grade focused, stressful, and answer based perspective on learning. Integration of other forms of assessment that incorporate creativity and allow students to truly apply their learning as a greater and more heavily weighted part of curriculum instead of the multitude of tests provides students with opportunity to truly be creative and learn through application and personal exploration of concepts.  

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