News Herald – Juliann Talkington
Studies suggest that the process of preparing for and taking a test can enhance learning and information retention. Research also confirms that testing can be a useful assessment tool.
Recently there has been a great deal of discussion of the pros and cons of various types of testing. Because money, college admissions, and careers are tied to testing, it is difficult to separate facts from marketing rhetoric.
There are three basic types of tests: 1) tests prepared by teachers, 2) curriculum-based tests prepared by others (third party, curriculum-based testing), and 3) standardized tests.
Tests prepared by teachers have little standardization. These tests can cover class lectures, material from books or learning aids, homework, projects, behavior, and other things. While this type of flexibility makes teaching interesting, it does not assure a student has mastered the required material. In fact, it is difficult for school management to know how much students have learned until they enter the next grade level.
For this model to work well good teachers must be retained for many years, since the consequences of poor teaching do not show up for at least a year (in some cases many years if a student has a string of underperforming teachers).
The second type of test is a curriculum-based test that is prepared and administered by a third party. These tests provide unbiased data on teacher and student performance. If these tests are administered quarterly, teachers can use the data to adjust lesson durations (spend more or less time on subjects) and identify students who need extra reinforcement on specific concepts. Early identification of student strengths and weaknesses means remediation can begin early. With targeted help and focused teaching, more students can master the required material by the end of the year. This data also helps school management coach and place teachers based on strengths and weaknesses.
The last type of testing is standardized testing. Standardized testing can provide information in baseline proficiency in some subjects. These tests are best used for topics with little ambiguity. For example, grammar and mathematics are easily tested using standardized methods. Unfortunately, standardized testing does not provide specific information that can be used to improve day-do-day classroom instruction or provide data on whether schools are building a foundation that prepares students for advanced learning.
While all types of testing are helpful, more focus on third party curriculum-based testing would be a way to improve learning outcomes quickly.