Monday, February 7, 2011

Why do we give exams (part 3)


David Martin teaches high school math in Red Deer, Alberta. You can find David's blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

by David Martin




Why do we give exams Part 3?
After asking many teachers the top three answers that have been given are:
1)      “To assess, and find out actually what the students know” Rebuttal to this
2)      “If we don’t test it, the students won’t want to learn it” Rebuttal to this
3)      “Hold teachers accountable for their teaching"
Rebuttal to 3:
This reason does not even make sense to me.  If I want to make sure my doctor is being professional, would I book more appointments with him?  Should men and women see the doctor more than once a year to ensure the doctor is keeping informed with medicinal breakthroughs?
We need to start trusting our teachers as professionals, and not as people who don’t care about their career.  Are there teachers who aren’t professional? Absolutely, just as there are doctors who are not professional, or managers, or gas attendants, or dentists, etc.  In any job, career, or field of study, there are people who “fly under the radar”, but I guarantee it is not an overwhelming percentage.
One solution; “Raise the bar” by administering common exams or create benchmarks that are common for the same course throughout a school.  Your high to middle performing teachers will rise to this new level; however the same teachers who weren’t at the level before, will still remain not functioning at the expected level.  
I have heard many teachers say “Fire those lazy teachers!”.  This also is not the solution!
Talking about the systematic firings, he notes, “In the long run, it would probably be superior…to develop systems that upgrade the overall effectiveness of teachers.” He points out, however, that these efforts have not been successful in the past. But have we really tried?
Instead of trying to fire our way to the high performance of Finland or anywhere else, why not try to emulate the policies that these nations actually employ? It seems very strange to shoot for the achievement levels of these nations by doing the exact opposite of what they do.
We are playing with students’ marks and confidence levels by worrying about whether or not a teacher is doing his/her job.  This needs to stop.  Trust the professionals, and you will see teachers starting to create new and innovative ways of assessment. 
I truly believe we will then witness ground-breaking and truly inventive ways of differentiated assessment.  We need to stop the idea of “Every student can learn differently, but all have to demonstrate their learning the same and on the same day”.
I have addressed the top three reasons of why teachers give an exam, but I ask this, if you are administering exams in your school, why do YOU give exams?

1 comment:

  1. I give exams to determine what's been mastered, what's still developing, and what skills I need to either teach or reteach. My school uses flexible grouping but I still differentiate the exams based on what needs the kids have--several do them on the computer, others dictate answers, others take them paper/pencil. Some I give give orally altogether because the students are 6 years old in a fifth grade level reading class and can barely write their name, or, the questions have to be tailored because they aren't able to answer questions about "feeling" or inference due to Aspberger's or Autism.

    Soon, we'll start our state tests (next Thursday). They won't even allow students to have EARPLUGS so they don't hear any distracting noises (to some, others breathing is a huge distraction)--the state says that it could affect the outcome of the test and no one should have anything different. It's not fair to the kids who need that tiny accommodation to do their best. They're setting them up for failure before they even start.

    As to whether or not teachers should be evaluated using standardized tests, I think it's ridiculous. Teachers ARE professionals. Just like other professionals (doctors, lawyers, police officers, etc.), we should be evaluated by the quality of service we provide, but a standardized test can't evaluate it--there are WAY too many factors that play into the "test taking" part. What if the room is too warm or cold for a given student--will he or she be able to demonstrate that he/she's been taught a given concept? What about breakfast? If a kid is hungry, the focus will be on "when do I get to eat" vs. doing their best on a test that takes two hours to complete. What about sleep? Family problems? The fact that the student lives in a shelter or in their car? Those things play into how well a student will do on a test regardless of what they've demonstrated in class.

    Bottom line, students AND teachers don't fit into a tiny box that can be evaluated reasonably by one test on one day. We don't evaluate surgeons on whether or not they followed the textbook during surgery because each surgery and each patient is not the same. Neither our our kids or teachers. We're not producing widgets, after all. We're producing thinkers and learners who will need to be able to demonstrate their ability to think and learn in the real world, where standardized tests aren't how the real world is evaluated.

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