Alright, so this is a reflection on a podcast that I was listening to called Hacking the Test Part 2 on the Hack Learning podcast. If you are not listening to the Hack Learning podcast by Mark Barnes I highly recommended you do it. Mark Barnes and his group have written a bunch of the different books in the Hack Learning series. I’m currently reading Hacking Project-Based Learning, but there are 15 or 20 other books that they have in the series- many of which seem really kind of cool.
Anyway, this one is on hacking the test. I really enjoyed this podcast. It resonated with me in many different ways. He states that you can’t measure learning with a test. Now that sounds a little bit weird but as he goes on he explains it a little more.
He shares about a second grade classroom that I was building airplanes to see if they can be successful. One of the ways they decided that their airplanes would be successful would be to have a championship and fly their airplanes a certain distance.
Now the championship was a kind of a one-off test and that really only showed how well their airplanes performed but it didn’t show what the students learned through the process. The second grade teacher asked one of his students how well his airplane had flown and the student responded that the airplane flew really great on the practice runs. And he asked the student what what happened during the championship. The student responded “well, I choked”.
I thought about the learning environment of this class and how, in our schools, we only look at the final learning task (high-stakes tests). If we think this accurately assesses our students’ learning, I fear we are missing the point.
The students above recognized that even though their plane crashed during the championship round, they still had a good plane and they realized that and recognized it. That is amazing insight from a 7 or 8 year old.
Too often what happens in a high-stakes testing environment, whether it’s the end of the year assessment or just a big test at the end of a unit or chapter, is that our students often don’t perform as well on these tests as we would like. Maybe it is just me, but there are times that I finished my lesson only to see students make mistakes that they ‘shouldn’t’ have made.
One of the quotes from the podcast that really spoke to me as a teacher (and student) “the test doesn’t decide how smart you are, but a test [only] decides how you did on that day.”
I think that is fantastic. We all know this as teachers, as adults, as kids even. However, we too often we get so wrapped up in trying to raise scores and are concerned about the students’ performance, on one test, that we neglect to celebrate the learning that happens throughout the year.
Now I know that there are many of us who, on any given day, understand this; we celebrate the learning. But it is often difficult to feel empowered to change when the culture of our schools and in our classrooms is turned into a test prep environment where we are only focused on that one performance piece.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been in education long enough to understand that The Test is part of it. But it is different than understanding that our kids are learning in spite of this one test. How many good teachers have had to take the CSET or RICA more than once? Teachers that knew their stuff and would be great in the classroom; they just couldn’t perform on the test. We don’t think they didn’t learn anything in their Credential Programs (or shouldn’t).
Too many times the teacher is not trusted and respected. There’s always something wrong with what we are doing; always something more we can do, etc. When we tie our students’ performance, or God forbid, a teacher’s performance, on how well a student performed on one day, on one test, there’s something [a little bit] wrong with that.
I don’t have an answer to this problem other than helping us to recognize at this one-off test may not be the best to try and measure learning can’t be successful because it only measures of performance on one day. It reminds me of a movie a few years back called Any Given Sunday. The idea was you can be successful or you can fail against the particular team on Any Given Sunday and there was really no way to say you were the best overall, only that you were the best on that day against that team.
I leave you with these thoughts. A test is not a complete assessment. (Or: an assessment is not simply a test) Assessment is a conversation. A conversation we have with our students. About their thoughts, ideas, and learning. Helping them self reflect (which can be tough) about what they are learning. Giving them other ways to demonstrate their learning- presentations,videos, short reflections, even test or quiz as a way to talk with them about what they understand. This is HUGE. The task of this is far easier said than done. But even having this in our minds as we consider what kids know and have learned.
How many times can we get up from our failures, reflect, change something and try again? Over and over and over again. That’s learning! That’s growing! In a real world, if the plane crashes we don’t stop sending out planes. we find out what was wrong and we fix it. How great would it be if our students left our classrooms with that mindset? How can we foster this with ourselves and others?