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Posts Tagged ‘tests

This is another title phrased as a question that follows the Betteridge Law of headlines.

No, most personality tests do not mean anything. Watch this video for a quick low down on why.

Video source

There is no value in knowing what kind of sandwich you are or which house in the Harry Potter world you belong to. That is, unless you really are into sandwiches or Harry Potter.

Even then there is little value, if any, in how these affect you in life. It is not as if being a BLT or Slytherin make you a better or worse person, determine your career, or predict how well you are going to do in life.

One of the more “official” sounding tests, the Myers-Briggs, is used by some organisations to select and sort people. They do this with a personality inventory that is neither valid nor reliable. The inventory also lumps people into absolute categories instead of recognising contexts and using a spectrum. The video provides succinct information on these issues.

The larger harm of not questioning such tests and inventories is the blind acceptance of a label stuck on you.

In the schooling and education worlds, some equally harmful labels are being a digital native/immigrant or a visual/auditory/kinaesthetic learner. I provide curated links that debunk the myths of each set.

Most personality tests have no worth because they do not determine your worth. Neither do labels of your tech-savviness based on when you were born or your supposed learning style.

When students cheat on exams it's because our school system values grades more than students value learning. -- Neil deGrasse Tyson

I created this image quote several months ago from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s original tweet.

This week I stumbled upon this video about exam “techniques”.

Video source

There is so much value placed in exams that some students resort to cheating and some examiners resort to extremes.

If you are assessment literate, you might realise that paper-based exams are a practice inherited from the industrial age. They have become a mainstay because we have forgotten to question and critique them. One big question is WHY we still have them. One big critique is the narrow academic-only ability they measure.

Despite viable alternatives like performance assessment and e-portfolios, there are groups that keep fanning into the embers of exams, e.g., the TES crowdsourcing A-Level exam questions.

Recently, Manu Kapur wrote an excellent opinion piece on why we should not over-rely on exams as we know today.

I paraphrase his main points. Test and exams:

  • May measure what we know, but not what we can apply with that knowledge or to create new information.
  • Do not guarantee transfer. The acquisition of information does not guarantee conversion to knowledge, and this in turn does not guarantee usage in real contexts.
  • Prevent students from using resources they would otherwise use in the wider world, e.g., their mobile phones.
  • Limit problem-solving to minutes at a time, and do not encourage persistence or perseverance.
  • Mould students to think and act under test conditions. They do not encourage deep learning and mastery.
  • May not match the cognitive developmental stage of the learner.

Tests are not authentic, they encourage superficial learning, and they are not forgiving.

Tests are outdated and it is not surprising why some students opt to cheat. They have so much stacked against them cognitively, ethically, and holistically.

I am not suggesting that students cheat. I am saying we must start operating outside the the test and exam paradigm.

How? Kapur’s article briefly outlines the approaches involving policies, people, and practices. It is well worth the read. It is even better to take action.

Video source

In this video Noam Chomsky explains the problems with assessment: The way they are misused, misaligned, and misappropriate.

It is no surprise then that a Secret Teacher wrote the following article in The Guardian about how tests seemed to be dumbing down her students.

The teacher bemoans:

My students are bright, engaged and well-behaved, but there is something missing: they cannot think.

The Secret Teacher goes on to blame a focus on exams and I agree with the teacher for the most part. But tests are not the only thing to blame for students who do not know how to think independently.

Teachers who spoon feed, stifle thought, or fail to stay relevant are just as culpable.

For instance, the teacher said:

Last week I caught another of my A-grade students using his phone in the lesson. As a starter exercise, I told them to think of as many advantages as they could of being on the UN security council. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m googling the list of advantages,” came his wary reply. I was flabbergasted. I tried to explain that there is no list of advantages, but that I wanted his own views.

I am confident that the Secret Teacher is also a Good Teacher. But she also sounds like a traditional one in that she is averse to searching for Googleable answers. Perhaps she did not know how to take advantage of a now natural behaviour to show her students how to think, act, and write critically after Googling.

Most people would eventually realize that the most important factor in a schooling or educational system is the quality of its teachers. Those that join the profession are self-selecting by choice and pre-selected by institutes of teacher education.

But only the exceptional step up to deal with the problems with assessment or learn how to skilfully promote critical and creative thinking in a conservative system. The rest need professional development and the mindset of lead learners to do this.

I finally read a tab I had open for about a week: A teacher’s troubling account of giving a 106-question standardized test to 11 year olds.

This Washington Post blog entry provided a blow-by-blow account of some terrible test questions and an editorial on the effects of such testing. Here are the questions the article raised:

  • What is the purpose of these tests?
  • Are they culturally biased?
  • Are they useful for teaching and learning?
  • How has the frequency and quantity of testing increased?
  • Does testing reduce learning opportunities?
  • How can testing harm students?
  • How can testing harm teachers?
  • Do we have to?

The article was a thought-provoking piece that asked several good questions. Whether or not you agree with the answers is moot. The point is to question questionable testing practices.

I thought this might be a perfect case study of what a poorly designed test looks like and what its short-term impact on learning, learners, and educators might be.

The long term impact of bad testing (and even just testing) is clear in a society like Singapore. We have teach-to-the-test teachers, test-smart students, and grade-oriented parents. We have tuition not for those that need it but for those who are chasing perfect grades. And meaningful learning takes a back seat or is pushed out of the speeding car of academic achievement.

We live in testing times indeed!

Cracked pot by mirsasha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  mirsasha 

Two individuals have been debating in a local paper the merits and demerits of severing Singapore’s link with the GCE examination system.

The first person [PDF] suggested that we have our own examination system. The responder [PDF] gave the usual “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” reply.

Frankly, I think that the first person did not go far enough!

How about not just having our own brand of exams but breaking out of our outdated mode of assessment? Like this Chronicle article, I think that we should stop telling our students to study for (the sake of) exams. On a related note, this father wishes that he could tell his kids not to just study for exams [PDF].

We have set our system up like an unpleasant game where students try to move up from one level to another by defeating boss exams at the end of each level. Unlike a real video game, kids do not want to play the exam game willingly.

I am not saying that learning should not be hard. It already is. I am saying that we should not be learning just for the sake of exams. While that may be the point of schooling, it is not the purpose of education.

School is meant to prepare students for real life, but the exams rarely reflect real life. They do not set the child on the path to enjoyable or meaningful lifelong learning. They rely on paper and pen(cil) in an electronic world. They require you to work alone.

In the real world you can ask for help or collaborate. In the exam world that is cheating. In the real and e-assisted world, you can connect with others and content. Often you can do that faster than you can with the teacher right in front of you.

In the real world your performance and other factors you cannot always control (like whether your boss likes you) determine outcomes. In the real world we rely on portfolios, presentations, projects, and evidence of learning.

Our current assessment system is broken. But our industrial era and industrial strength system keeps trying to put it back together and patching over the cracks. It is a matter of time when the cracks get more noticeable.

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