Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What does testing test?

In the junior and senior year of high school we are awash in testing. The juniors take the whole alphabet soup: PSAT, SAT, ACT, SOL, AP etc. etc. But what is being tested? In the Washington Post last week, the Answer Sheet explored that question in regards to SAT testing. It's a pretty interesting conversation with an employee of Princeton Review, Edward Carroll, who sits for the tests regularly so he can better design the tutoring sessions.
I've always been interested in this one: what exactly do we know our students know when we are done with the testing? He says, what I've thought, "If you're brilliant but slow, you'll only get an average score." Every year I have several students who fit this description. And yet, all of the important college level testing situations come with a time limit.
Here's what I wonder: Do we want fast thinkers?
In terms of innovation, I don't think we do. Who is going to come up with the truly new ideas if we continue to reward speed?
In terms of EMT's, physicians, soldiers, police officers, we need fast thinkers. Or at least we need our technicians - who work within a finite information system - to respond quickly and efficiently.
The Answer Sheet does a great service in educating the public about the limits of the tests our students take. If parents want a real picture of their students' academic abilities they should consult with their teachers.
My daughter's kindergarten teacher was a highly experienced woman whose opinion came with far more weight than the standardized test she shared with me. She counseled me once to ignore my daughter's tests results, because she had observed her in the classroom and knew how she had thought herself beyond the limits of the readiness test. Now that was a well-rounded evaluation I could value.