by David Martin
Why do we give exams?
After asking many teachers the top three answers that have been given are:
1. “To assess, and find out actually what the students know”
2. “If we don’t test it, the students won’t want to learn it”
3. “Hold teachers accountable for their teaching”
After many hours of thought, I have decided to post my rebuttal to these three reasons, over the next three blogs:
1) To argue this I would like to start by quoting Einstein “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. I believe that discrete statistical data, derived from tests, actually devalue the professional judgement of a teacher. Teachers should be able to rely on the personal interaction with their students that they have on a day-to-day basis and not the mark received on an exam.
To further illustrate this, before a student even writes an exam, he/she could explain to the teacher what his/her mark will be on the evaluation. Furthermore, I would even go as far saying that most teachers know what mark the student will receive on the exam as well. If both the teacher and the student know what mark is going to be achieved, why waste valuable class time giving an examination?
Tests are also discouraging to any student achieving a mark that is not sufficient. A student, in this category, will walk into your class KNOWING they will not achieve an adequate mark, and then write the exam. When you hand back the exam, marked, their knowledge will be confirmed with the poor mark. We are beating their confidence down with their own knowledge.
Alfie Kohn, would say:
Most assessment systems are based on an out-dated behaviourist model that assumes nearly everything can -- and should -- be quantified. But the more educators allow themselves to be turned into accountants, the more trivial their teaching becomes and the more their assessments miss.Some would then argue; give more exams. The more chances a student has to demonstrate their learning, the better the picture the teacher has of what the student knows. Psychologists Martin Maehr and Carol Midgly would say “an overemphasis on assessment can actually undermine the pursuit of excellence”.
It has been shown, many times, that the more a student is told to focus on their marks, the less engaged they become about the learning. Classrooms should have less of an emphasis on achievement and marks, and more emphasis on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.