"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tests and Their Proper Use

In medicine, there are various exams or tests. For example, blood tests are performed to measure the total amounts of fatty substances in the blood. These are important to gauge the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) since this correlates with a lower chance of heart disease and stroke. At the same time, measuring the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is equally useful since this associates with a higher probability of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. If one has very high LDL and very low LDL, lifestyle changes (exercise and diet) or statin drugs (these are substances that help lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood) may be prescribed. Early this year, Richard Knox of NPR News wrote "Doctor Groups Unite Against Unnecessary Tests & Procedures":

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Education can certainly learn a thing or two from the medical profession.

Diane Ravitch's seventh proposed solution in her book The Reign of Error is described in Chapter 28, "Measure Knowledge and Skills with Care":
SOLUTION NO. 7 Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.
The situation in the United States can be described by a misplaced focus or emphasis on standardized tests. In No Child Left Behind, scores in these tests can decide the closing of a school. It is the "high-stakes" character that erodes the practice of testing in US public schools. Since scores in these tests mean a lot, teachers are also forced to focus only on subjects (reading and math) where students are tested, neglecting the other not tested but equally important disciplines in basic education.

The Philippines likewise has standardized tests. Unlike in the US, these tests are not "high stakes" although performance based evaluations of teachers established this year are partly based on test scores of students. Nonetheless, the main problem with education testing in the Philippines is how test scores are used to guide reform in education. Similar to medicine, assessments inform. It is correct to use test scores to identify the problem. Knowing the situation is essential in drawing the appropriate solution. 

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics' Learning Metrics Task Force recently issued recommendations for measuring learning outcomes. The report emphasizes that measurement must include the following learning domains:

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Towards this goal, the following measures or indicators are recommended:

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Measuring learning outcomes is important. This, however, is not the only step in reforming education. These assessments must guide education reform. Prior to the above recommendations, the Philippines has been participating in international assessments. The Philippines also has its own set of national standardized exams. This blog has highlighted the results from these exams in various articles. These exams are given at various stages in basic education. There is one near the end of primary schooling, which basically gauges how much students have mastered arithmetic and reading. The results have been dismal for years. Not performing well in these exams at the early grades point to problems in the first few years of elementary education as well as in the early childhood education (preschool and kindergarten). Yet, DepEd K+12 adds two years at the end of high school. This is no different from prescribing an appendectomy procedure after seeing high levels of cholesterol. We must not only measure the knowledge and skills with care, but more importantly, respond accordingly to what the measures say.

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