Monday, March 26, 2007

Blaming the Test Instead of the Course Content

In Washington state, legislators and educators are scuffling over how to change the math and science portions of a state test so that more students will pass it. This particular article includes a quote from an education expert that really cuts to the gist of testing:

End-of-course exams "make more sense to educators," said Jack Jennings, the center's president. "What they find is that it's better to test kids right after they finish a course than to try to test them at a later time across many subjects."

Why do you get better results when you test right after a course? Because the information is still fresh in the students' minds. They have not yet forgotten it. The resulting higher scores make the students and their teacher look good.

Here's the thing, useful can this information be if it's so easy to forget? We all hold lots of information in our heads without effort. How long does it take you to memorize your new address and phone number when you move? Not long at all, because you need that information all the time. When you bought your last car, did you keep forgetting where the headlight switch was? No, because you needed it right away. The subsequent regular use of that information keeps it in your head.

I yanked my homeschooled teenagers out of a popular satellite school once I realized that they were reading the assigned information, memorizing it for the test, and forgetting it soon after they'd passed the test. That's what I did in high school, and what I didn't want for them. It's a waste of time.

On the other hand, I learned a quilting technique in a one-day class I took over ten years ago, and I have never forgotten it. I've used it many times. I consider it a very valuable piece of information. But I didn't need to memorize it. I gained the information when I needed it, and it was useful to me, so my regular use of it cemented it in my brain.

If students are forgetting what they've learned soon after a course, how to test them is not the problem. Instead, we need to question the value of what was taught in that course. If it was something that would prove useful or interesting to them, they would still remember it, even if they were tested quite a while later.

No comments: