For Administrators

Why We Need to Think Deeply About Improving Classroom Testing

By Brian Gatens May 29, 2014

“You can’t help a cow grow by weighing it everyday”

This quote jumps out at me when I think of how much testing happens in our schools today. That being said, the plain truth is that testing, in many different forms, is here to stay. The question is: What can we do to make our classroom tests (as opposed to state-mandated tests) the best they can be for our students? Tests are important to measure learning, but they can be used for so much more.

Looking at the bigger picture

Many teachers view tests only through the lens of measuring student performance. The idea is that if we collect enough test grades, we can use the overall average to assign a performance grade. That’s an absolutely legitimate approach, as it’s the paradigm schools have worked under for many, many years.

But that’s really only a starting point. We have to remember that tests can serve a far greater purpose. Rather than merely establishing a number or score, a test can be a “snapshot” of what students know right now. What teachers do with that information determines the overall quality of the students’ experience.

Establishing a performance baseline

Tips on improving classroom testingConsider this significant shift: Go from a mindset where a test is seen as an end point in a child’s progress in your class, and instead see it as a captured “moment in time” that shows their understanding of the class subject matter.

With a test score in hand, you need to make a decision. You can file the grade and the test away, shrug your shoulders at low-performing students and move onto the next unit of study, or you can use the test to identify the full spectrum of your students’ performance and adjust your classwork to help everyone do a better job next time.

Making smart adjustments

After getting timely and authentic feedback from your students, you can now use test data to adjust your instruction by reteaching some material, breaking students into groups to help them at their different proficiency levels, or using the data to identify your high-performing students. This differentiation enables you to address your students where they are now in their progress, and not where you wish they would be.

Viewing tests as the students’ voice brought to life

Another way to look at testing is to see a test as an expression of your students’ voices. Their success or failure tells you something about them as learners — I’ve always believed that low-performing students, whether they know it or not, use their struggles to ask us for help. I have never met a student who likes to fail. Many of them feign indifference and not caring, but deep down inside, they want to succeed.

Letting a child earn back lost points

This is a hot topic in faculty rooms. Are test results written in stone, or should teachers allow students to make up lost points? As with anything, this depends on where you stand. If the point of your test is to capture a number and quantify student performance, then not allowing makeup opportunities makes sense.

On the other hand, if your goal is to have the student master the content of your class, recognizing that content understanding is important for further learning, then you can adjust your approach and make increased knowledge the goal of the retest.

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