Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Professor Sums up the Testing Controversy

Steven Dutch, a professor at the University of Wisconsin has a great post up on the Top Ten No Sympathy Lines for students who complain about their grades is class. One of them summed up my opinion on standardized testing and its opponents.

I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams

Leprechauns, unicorns, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, hobbits, orcs - and students who know the material but don't do well on exams. Mythical creatures.
I've met students who claim to know the material but not do well on exams, but when you press them, it turns out they don't know the material after all. If you can't answer questions about the material or apply the knowledge in an unfamiliar context, you don't know it. You might have vague impressions of specific ideas, but if you can't describe them in detail and relate them to other ideas, you don't know the material.
In addition to content, every type of exam used in college requires specific, vital intellectual skills. Essay exams require you to organize material and present it in your own words. Short-answer exams require you to frame precise, concise answers to questions. Multiple choice exams require you to define criteria for weeding out false alternatives and selecting one best answer. All of these are useful skills in themselves. If you can't do well on some specific type of test - learn the appropriate skill.

emphasis mine

I have never understood the argument against standardized testing. I am in the USAF and we have multiple choices tests as part of our promotion system. I have had several people who work for me who tell me that they "don't do well on tests" to explain their low scores. Inevitably when I dig deeper, I discover that the real problem its not testing that they do poorly on, its studying... as in not doing it. If our students don't do well on tests, its not because tests are faulty, its because the teaching was inadequate. I also have no sympathy for those who say they get too nervous before tests due to the pressure. What are they going to do when their boss gives them a deadline at work... freeze up and not do it. If someone is that bothered by the pressure, then they aren't going to much use in the workforce anyway. In the military we practice practice practice until our jobs become almost second nature. Its the same with elementary education. Our students need to practice, study and yes memorize the basics so that when they move on to high school and college the basic reading and math is second nature. That way they can concentrate on the more comprehensive tying together of facts part of education. How else to measure how well our students have accomplished this, then to test them.

Hat tip Joanne Jacobs


Jetgirl said...

I'm new to your blog, but really enjoying it.

As a elementary student in the '80s I didn't feel I was learning the material, so would do pages upon pages of the same type of math problems until either the book ran out or I could invent my own and solve them in my head.

Rote and practice never failed me, subjectiveness always did.