When I was a kid, tests or exams were things that happened at the end of the week, term or year.
Teachers worked through a maze of curriculum requirements, adding whatever creative flair they possessed, at a speed determined by the general academic level of the class group. The bright sparks of the class were provided with extra work to challenge them and the less academically gifted worked their way through easier versions of the concepts being explored.
Today this is called differentiating curriculum.
I am not sure if the teachers of the 1950s did this as a conscious method of delivering instruction at an appropriate level for each child, or if it was simply a classroom management technique. They knew they had to keep the quick thinkers busy and they also knew that there were always some kids in the class who struggled. There was certainly a lot of ‘motivating’ shouting to encourage our efforts in the classroom and the ever-present threat of a visit to the Headmaster’s office.
At the end of term, our knowledge was tested and reports were issued. Standardized testing happened at the end of primary school and then twice in the high school years – at the end of year ten when many people left school and again at the end of year twelve as a means of university entry. So, we were twelve, fifteen or seventeen when these major tests occurred.
Today, our children are subjected to standardised testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and in some states in year twelve.
Teachers are under huge pressure to deliver results so that their schools appear at the top of results lists and thereby attract clientele and funding. The first term is spent teaching for the test and doing practice tests. The children are becoming extremely stressed and their parents don’t know whether to push them harder or withdraw them from the tests.
One little boy that I work with at the tutoring centre became so stressed that he developed shingles. He is seven years old!
Now, I know that we need to prepare our children to deal with the pressures of life but I do not believe in putting kids under pressure like this.
Test their knowledge by all means, but do not make those tests about anything else but the child and his/her welfare. Testing should be used as a tool to identify the holes in a child’s learning so that those holes can be filled or, if a learning disability is detected, assistance can be provided. Tests should not be used to create league tables to rank schools.
Testing is also a way for teachers to evaluate their teaching practice and to refine and improve it. Assessment is an important part of the learning process. Every teacher knows this and incorporates it into every lesson. Good teachers use assessment to design programs that best benefit each child in their care. Teacher professionalism demands this.
Standardized tests give a snapshot of what a child does on a given day, not what he is capable of overall. The end of year report gives a far more rounded and complete picture of ability and performance than one of these national three day events that happen in the month of May.