“Take me to the test, and I the matter will reword.” — William Shakespeare
“Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy and cause unnecessary stress.” — Arne Duncan
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein
When a student gets an “A” on a test, it can mean 1) he has truly and deeply learned the material, or 2) he did well on the test, but will have forgotten most of the material within a week or two. The test doesn’t distinguish between the two. In fact, it is incapable of doing so. As described in “Unexamined Beliefs, Unintended Consequences”, tests by themselves do not measure learning.
Students often cram the night before a test. They then feel successful when their score is high, regardless of how much they have actually learned. Teachers, too, often fall for the illusion — having a class score well on a test feels good. When a student gets A’s on one test after another, this surely means he is learning, right?
Unfortunately, it does not. Doing school is a simulation of learning, and tests are one of the places where the simulation is the most compelling. We need to find a way to break the cram/regurgitate/forget cycle of testing and replace it with a mechanism that is an effective part of the learning process. We need to make tests meaningful.