Getting Testy on Testing

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     The principal showed Libby, Etta and Celery to seats in front of his desk, then sat behind it.
      “We’ve come about Professor Brayne’s test,” said Libby.
      “I thought so,” said Mr. Knott.
      “It’s causing us serious worry.”
      Mr. Knott sighed. “I know. I’m sorry.”
      “And the worst thing is …” Libby took a deep breath. “The questions are silly!”

That’s from the second Farm Hill Trio story, Libby’s Got the Beat (Lorimer 2010), in which Libby and her friends rebel against the tests imposed on their school and come up with an alternative which they call The Real-Life Test.

The obsession with testing students en masse has always driven me nuts, because the most worthwhile and memorable events and occurrences in school – and the most educational – defy testing: Multi-disciplinary projects. Concerts. Fund raising projects. Olympics Day. Chess tournaments. Sports. Book Character Dress Up Day. Drama productions.

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Instead of the dreadful so-called (but not really and never can be) ‘standardised tests’ which are useless for discovering what students know and are antithetical to how true learning takes place (when you learned to knit, or tie your shoes, or ski, or play the piano, did you need a standardised test to know when you could do it?), how about ‘testing’ via three questions:
1) Is the student happy in the learning situation?
2) Is the student progressing?
3) Is the student progressing as well and as fast as you’d like?

I’m happy with a ‘Yes’ to #1 and #2. If there’s a ‘No’ there (you don’t need a test to discover it), then you start asking questions.

And if #3 is a ‘No’ – so what?

Better, anyway, to ask – Is the student progressing as well and as fast as she or he is capable of? But even then – if not, so what? Did you learn to knit or tie your shoes or ski or play the piano as well and as fast as you could?

And did it matter?

     Mr. Knott opened the folder and took out a neatly typed piece of paper.
                                       The Real-Life Test
             Answer the questions below. (Don’t worry about getting them all right.
                               Just do the best you can!)
     1. Three kids play in a band, one on piano, one on the cello, and one on bass. Is it better for them to stand and sit in an equilateral triangle or in an isosceles triangle? State the reasons for your choice.
      Mr. Knott looked up from the paper. “Hmmm.” He frowned. “What’s the answer?”
      “What do you think?” said Libby.

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