Standardized testing

I’ve found that when I do poorly on a test I tend to criticize testing in general, so here goes.

Anyone else notice a huge discrepancy between what we are tested on on the SAT, MCAT, ACT, or whatever [A-Z]*T test that we take versus what is expected of us when we enter college and the workforce? On those tests, you’re given a calculator, a pencil and your brain and expected to compete with the rest of your classmates. However, when you enter college you’re encouraged to collaborate with other students, be resourceful and persistent in your research, and there’s usually no multiple choice.

One of the things that was nice about having a programming background when taking those tests was that if a question came up that was a) tedious or b) somewhat hard, I was generally able to write a quick program on my trusty TI-83 to solve the problem. I don’t think it’s cheating – it was using my resources available to solve the problem. But there’s no question that I was at an advantage over the other students because I was able to better utilize my existing tools. A comparable example would be if you were expected to take the test with a pencil that could only write X amount of words or numbers, and I was allowed to take the same test with a pencil that was able to write 100 times more.

So in this way, those tests are unfair. But I also think it’s a tad counterproductive. Students who study for those tests stay up for nights memorizing facts that, once they go to college or enter the workforce, they’ll be able to do a quick Google search to find the answer. Why not test students on problems that are more relevant?

What I would propose is the following: a 2-hour test that is a similar format to the ones currently in place, followed by a 1-hour group exam (or perhaps move the group exam to the front, to avoid anyone looking at the door). The idea here would be to group the entire testing room into groups of four or five, and those students would move into seperate areas of the room to take the group test together. Each student is responsible for writing down their own answer, but the tests would be graded as a group so work could be divided evenly without repeititon.

What does this accomplish? First, a sense of what a real job will be like – having access to other group members will be like having co-workers and colleagues in the real world. Second, real problems can be assigned – problems that are actually challenging and provide a sense of accomplishment when completed. And finally, colleges wil be able to see how students perform in groups. This would be incredibly useful knowledge to colleges that are trying to make decisions on students.

And there’s my little rant on standardized testing and education in general. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: education is the single most important issue to our country today – most of the problems with today’s United States can be traced to education, or lack thereof, and its effects on adult decision-making.

Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on February 29, 2008 at 1:14 PM. Post text content © 2008 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.