Monday, January 31, 2011

The Test Game

As in many other classrooms across the country, there is a teach/test cycle in my classroom. I like to call it the test game. Kids know how it works. Parents know how it works. Even most teachers know how it works. It goes something like this:

  1. Look over the test before preparing lessons.
  2. Teach the lessons, paying special attention to items that will be tested.
  3. Prepare a study guide for students to have/use either before, during, or after instruction.
  4. Spend class time each day or the day before the test reviewing the test items.
  5. Give the test.
  6. Start all over again.
What's the problem with this, you may ask? The number one problem is that I don't agree with teaching to the test. Should we preview the test? OF COURSE! Should students know what they are expected to learn in advance? DEFINITELY! Should we focus the main part of our instruction on test items? Not really. This is the part that boxes me in as a teacher. I know that I must "cover" what students will be tested on, but worry that focusing too much on such things will stifle their learning.

Year after year, unit after unit, it is the same, predictable pattern: Students who have good memories "learn" what they need to pass the test, then may forget the information when it is no longer needed. Students with less help, less background experience, or who struggle to remember have trouble with the tests.

I'm left wondering: How do I make the assessment match the learning? How do I make learning about LEARNING and not so much about the test at the end of the unit? How do I make sure that students really learn the material, and not just memorize for the test? How do I accurately assess student learning, rather than their reading ability or memory? Can their learning be accurately assessed? Does everything HAVE to have a number or letter attached to it?  I'm going on an assessment adventure. Hopefully, some of my questions will be answered along the way.

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