There are certain stereotypes related to school assessment that have held true in all forms of media—the standardized test, the lengthy essay, and the dreaded pop quiz, to name a few. As it turns out, these types of tests exist in the public consciousness for a reason. Increased emphasis on schools collectively performing well on standardized testing has warped education.
It's become such a cultural norm that many teachers don't consider what else they can be doing to properly assess their students. While traditional testing has its place in schools, often as preparation for standardized assessment, there are other alternatives that educators can consider. The purpose of a test is to gauge the prowess and learning ability of students, but other exercises or methods can accomplish the same thing while cutting down on the drudgery.
Often, projects are used to take the place of tests. Projects are a great way for students to prove their knowledge while studying something that they're interested in. Projects can take many forms, including informational posters, presentations, or even short performances(where relevant)! These projects can be tailored to any subject, with academic rigor enforced by teachers and peers alike. They can be valuable to students because they teach applied knowledge and encourage communication and creative thinking to convey an idea.
However, the weaknesses of projects cannot be ignored; they allow for rigorous study, but often, only for a single topic. Additionally, while teachers may be inclined to be open about what students can cover for a project, they will inevitably have students that try to bend the rules to make something that is not relevant to the class.
In this case, it's good to strike a balance; keep the requirements of the project somewhat flexible, but require a certain level of work. As for topics, teachers can provide a pre-approved list or allow for topics selected by students to be suggested, leaving themselves room to veto as necessary.
Even when giving students tests, changing the approach can help identify areas of weakness while not punishing students. Part of the problem with testing is that repeated failures can lead to a defeatist mindset for students. Teachers should instead be willing to work with low performers to improve their comprehension. One way to do this is by combining closed and open book testing. These tests start out like any other type of assessment, but afterward, students are able to use the book to correct themselves on answers they may have missed. This immediate fixing calls attention to gaps in knowledge.
The confidence test is another option for teachers looking to figure out where students may struggle before a large test. This method, which should precede an actual test, lets students state how confident they would feel answering certain questions. The process does not take long and leaves students and teachers with a great starting point to figure out where approval is needed.
There's no one way to fix the obsession our schooling system has with standardized assessment. Even if teachers are not enthralled with the idea, they will likely still have to prepare their students for these tests. However, this doesn't mean that all testing has to be based on rote memorization. Teachers can endeavor to create an environment that rewards learning and encourages students to demonstrate the knowledge they gain.
About the author: Lazar Finker is a Jacksonville-based entrepreneur, educator, and philanthropist. Along with his wife, Raissa, Lazar founded the Finker-Frenkel Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to causes such as children's welfare, education, medical research, and religious development. He is also an avid violin player.
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