We tell people tests are merictocratic but the test community sells ‘tests’ and also courses on how to ‘cheat’ those tests. Companies like Kaplan and others sell expensive courses that tell you literally, how to cheat. Imagine a business school that runs courses on banking, and at the same time sells courses on robbing banks! (Then again….) This is immoral and a sign that the tests are not what they claim to be, immune from improvement through tutoring and practice.
We a dull & irrelevant curriculum, teach it badly, test it endlessly and wonder why they hate it or fail. PISA set the wrong pace, with STEM close behind, so politicians have become obsessed with the weird world of abstract maths, despite the fact that the vast majority of students will NEVER use the quadratic formula, surds, trigonometry or any algebra at any point in their lives. Abstract maths is easy to test, so the tests drive the curriculum. The majority of learners actually need ‘functional’ maths, fit for practical living, not the tiny minority that go on to do STEM degrees.
Summative is too late
The educational system is structured like horizontal layers of impermeable rock. The learner has to punch vertically upwards through these strata, with exams at every stratum, designed to halt progress for the majority. This obsession with summative assessment also means that formative assessment suffers. Teachers teach to the test. In short, we test too late, when the damage is done.
Tests measure failure
Precious few people get 100% in any test, so testing almost always tests below full competence. Why don’t we test until full competence is achieved, rather than accepting second-best? This is what simulations and games approaches do and therefore offer. Why can’t we go for systems of smart, adaptive assessment that assure competence at every stage?
Test and forget
Most exams test knowledge that will be forgotten within days or at most weeks. Ebbinghaus proved this in 1885, yet we still operate a system that follows the ‘cram, test, forget’ method. Part of the problem is the fact that we have abandoned ‘learning by doing’. Tests favour ‘knowing that’ as opposed to ‘knowing how’. Imagine an Olympics with only a few medals available for a few, pure athletics races and the rest are rubbish.
Most tests are still done using pens. Two points: 1) few students and workers use pens in the real world, they use keyboards; 2) not giving students the chance to restructure and rewrite essay answers leads students to memorise and regurgitate set essays and answers. Critical thinking through writing is all about rewriting, so why not give them the ability to word process? We test using primitive technology that actually stops them from showing competence.
Abysmal quality control
Recent A-level exams contained impossible questions in a range of subjects from major test organisations such as AQA, OCR and Edexcel. Their quality control was so abysmal that they hadn’t tested their papers with even a SINGLE student. They claim to have statistically eliminated the problem by adjusting marks. Just how did they measure the distress and distraction in trying to answer an impossible question?
We test to blame, whether its students, schools even entire educational systems, which at times has led to a pathological view of education, and the demonization of state schooling. There’s so much testing going on, that relevance, innovation, skills, honesty and quality have gone down the plughole. We’re stuck with a Kafkaesque approach that is relentless, bureaucratic, accusatory and often tests the wrong things for the wrong reasons, killing the desire to learn. We’ve turned our children into a generation of Josef Ks.