I’m reading the ongoing debate around the coming Naplan tests and the government school teachers’ planned boycott… thinking about standardized testing and it’s implications… wondering how the new National Curriculum will affect the wonderful inquiry learning that happens in our school, if they introduce further standardized testing to go along with it…
I had an interesting conversation this morning with my friend in India. He talked about the fact that his son’s scores had improved in the recent exams (he is 10 years old!). When he worked with his son to prepare for said exams, he focused more on making learning interesting than on the exams. He put less pressure on his son to achieve than he had in the past. He encouraged his son to think and question and followed his interests, rather than worrying too much about what might be on the test. And the results were pleasing! I commented that it was interesting to note that the less he emphasised achievement, the greater the achievement.
Which reminded me of an (I think) Indian adage I once saw online, ‘If you want an elephant to grow, feed it, don’t weigh it’. My friend said you still need to weigh the elephant to check on its growth. Yes, maybe, as long as your aim in weighing the elephant is to see whether you have been feeding it the right food, decide what to feed it next and help it grow further… rather than to publish its weight for the purpose of comparison with other elephants or make it feel that its whole sense of self worth is dependent on that weight!
What’s important is formative assessment. The kind of assessment that informs teaching and learning. Assessment that provides meaningful feedback to the learner which supports further learning. Assessment that helps students and teachers to know where learning is at, enabling learners to take responsibility for their own learning and teachers to adapt teaching according to the learner’s needs. It doesn’t even need to be a test. Every learning experience in the classroom can provide formative assessment. Even simply listening to children’s conversations, recording their thinking and using that to guide further teaching and learning.
I’ve been teaching for a long time! I remember long ago, when I used to think that assessment was only for finding out whether students had mastered a topic or a skill. I thought they had to study and prepare and I had to give them a grade before moving on to a new topic. I thought if they didn’t do well in the test, it meant they hadn’t prepared well enough or they hadn’t been taught properly or they simply weren’t capable. I thought I could compare students’ ability according to their grades on a test.
But wait… there are plenty of people and governments (including my own) who still seem to think that ‘weigh’!