"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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Lost Purpose of Tests

People who are unaware of an illness do not necessarily feel the urge to see a physician. Similarly, people who think they know the material more than they actually do are less likely to exert effort to learn. It is quite easy to fall prey to illusions of competence. Reading and listening are ways by which knowledge can be obtained. The information provided by a book or a lecturer is usually presented in an organized manner which helps the reader or audience to follow. There is fluency. And when students review the material by either simply rereading the book or listening to a recorded lecture, students often mistake this fluency as their own.

Diane Ravitch wrote in The Lost Purpose of School Reform:
Parents and educators have noisily opposed the annual testing mandate, which they think places too much emphasis on standardized tests and causes schools to cut funding for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, history, and other subjects. Even now, many thousands of parents are refusing to allow their children to sit for the Common Core tests to protest them. The Common Core tests are not like tests that adults took many years ago; they require anywhere from eight to eleven hours and are “delivered” online. In the past, teachers wrote their own tests to find out what students had or had not learned. They could tailor instruction to help students who had fallen behind. But results from the new standardized tests are not reported until four to six months after the tests, and teachers are not permitted to see how students answered specific questions. Thus, everyone ends up with a grade—the student, the teacher, the principal, and the school—but the tests have no diagnostic value because teachers cannot learn from them about the needs of their students.
High stakes standardized testing may have indeed led to school reform losing its original purpose, but what is likewise crystal clear is that high stakes testing has destroyed the good side of tests. A previous post in this blog, "National Achievement Test - Should We Abolish Standardized Testing?", points out that in both the United States and the Philippines, more and more people are clamoring for the removal of tests from schools.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines has called for the abolition of the National Standardized Exam
Tests, however, not only have diagnostic value but can also potentiate learning. Taking an exam provides students with an opportunity to help identify weaknesses. Regular quizzes achieve this purpose inside a classroom. If there is one thing a test can achieve, it can prevent a student from falling prey into an illusion of competence.

Even without providing scores or returning graded exams, research has shown that the mere task of taking a test already improves learning outcomes. The challenge that accompanies a test question is sufficient enough to inform a student to do something with his or her learning. These results are provided by a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology entitled "Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons". The study employs the following experimental design:

Above copied from Yue, C. L., Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, E. L. (2015, March 16). Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000031


One group of students (Test Participants) takes a test on half of the items covered in a lesson while another group (Read Participants) simply rereads facts. Both groups are then given an opportunity to review the lesson before a final test is given. The results clearly show that students given a test before restudying perform better than those who simply reread facts from the lesson especially on items that are not covered in the initial test:

Above copied from Yue, C. L., Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, E. L. (2015, March 16). Partial Testing can Potentiate Learning of Tested and Untested Material From Multimedia Lessons. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000031

As shown in the experimental design, students are also requested to gauge their confidence in the material. Both groups increase their confidence as they study the lesson, with the Read Participants clearly becoming overconfident. The study also presents results from a second experiment that shows that a test on one lesson improves learning outcomes in a second unrelated lesson. Tests therefore improve strategies in studying.

High stakes tests do give tests a very bad reputation. Tests are important because these can shatter an illusion of competence, which serves as a significant barrier to learning. When we are made aware that there is something we do not know, we are more likely to exert effort to learn.







No comments:

Post a Comment