Why Constant Testing Is Not Sustainable in the Long Run
When the word “test” infiltrates students’ minds, they get scared. Because tests are measurements of their performance in certain subjects. Of course, receiving the results of them is the most frightening part of all!
In this article, I would like to make a comparison between Hungarian tests at schools and the controversial “standardized” tests in the United States. The main question of this article: why constant testing does not represent true knowledge. The most specific way I can answer: because it is placing too much pressure on both the teacher and the students. The teacher’s job is not to test the children but TEACH them. In other words: teachers do not have to prepare a test (or a quiz) week by week because they have to correct and grade them, which takes too much time. To make matters worse, school rules also apply to the teacher: failing to correct and grade a test by the deadline means the grade will not count.
According to regulations in Hungary, the number of grades is limited to twelve in each subject within one semester. However, students must have at least three grades to qualify for the evaluation. The grading system is based on a 1-5 scale, where one means fail and five means excellent. There is also a limit on midterm examinations, which is two in each semester. It is worth noting that they count twice. This means if you fail a midterm, you get two fails. Only in special cases can you retake a midterm (or test), however, the fail will not be annulled. Should you miss a midterm test due to (certified) absence, you must catch up. At the end of your last year in secondary school, you have to take a mock exam of the four compulsory subjects. The grades of these are worth two midterms, so it is ill-advised to fail them.
The title of this article refers to the clash of the two methods, which I focused on in a previous article. Hungary belongs to the “Prussian” camp. That is, as the teacher presents the material, students must comply and write it down, do the homework, and prepare for frequent tests, and so on. Sometimes, these tests are overly frequent as teachers do not always have to announce the time of the test. (It is obligatory to announce midterms, but not so for short tests.) I can understand the intention – students must comply and learn. However, these short tests tend to be overused and only represent fleeting knowledge. Of course, the results do not reveal whether the student was stressed or not. These tests are stressing students and eventually, teachers. Hungary lacks in compliance, sometimes roles are not clarified in certain cases. Who is to blame for bad performance? Back in the day, it was automatically the pupil for not complying and the bad grade served its “punishing” role.
Let me enumerate two cases within my high school. My Maths teacher and my Physics teacher (who taught Chemistry as well) were widely hated within my class for being very harsh and unfair. None of these claims was true. They were harsh, for sure, but they were fair. My Maths teacher, whom I admire a lot, came from Ukraine (Subcarpathian region). She graduated from Lviv University as a mathematician and taught there for some years afterwards. All she did was introduce the mentality of a Soviet university to us with fairness. She required a lot from us because she wanted us to excel in mathematics. Some students did not like the idea of excelling. That is why some of them tried to betray the teacher for being unfair. A common argument was, “I excelled in mathematics in primary school, but now I cannot produce the same results because of the teacher requiring too much of me”. My mother answered in a short but concise way like this: “Maybe you do not prepare well enough. My son practices all the problems before tests. His grades are quite good.”
For being overly harsh, the same issue applied to the Physics teacher. That teacher reminded us to voice concerns face to face at all times. No tattletales. She told us we were not able to use the calculator (in Hungary, at some tests and exams you are allowed to use one), which was true. At the time, some students were not able to distinguish the signs of the four basic operations. Therefore it is not a good idea in primary school that calculators are banned and counting is enforced (you cannot even use one after entering high school). There should be some time set aside to use a scientific calculator. Look at the equation above (source: Wikipedia), and try to solve it on your own!
Let us jump to a short analysis of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, repealed in 2015 with the introduction of Every Student Succeeds Act. The former act introduced a standardized test to measure a school’s performance. The intention was to set a rigorous challenge (in reading and math) for students. The keyword is “accountability”. This keyword is measured by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This measure is intended to help minorities reach a proficient level or above in English within 12 years. These standardized tests should take place every year between 3rd and 8th grade. However, they led to constant criticism because schools were required to teach to the test and not to seek practice. What does this mean? A student would only master performing a calculation such as “What is 2+6?”, but not be aware of any practical use for it.
In the long run, there would not be enough places for equal opportunity to succeed. States had set arbitrary scores to reach, which were not realistic at times. Education solely based on these tests would provide only half the necessary information. That is, in the worst-case scenario when something was wrong, it would not reveal exactly what was wrong or what the best way to solve the problem was. (1)
Speaking of unrealistic goals, some schools even manipulated the results to prevent the attrition rate from rising. According to Meier and Woods (2004, p. 36), a high school in Houston, Texas reportedly started with 1,000 first-year students, and four years later, only 300 of them had enrolled for senior classes. However, the 700 other students were not classified as “dropouts”. According to Alfie Kohn, the NCLB was a “destructive” act, constantly placing students under pressure. (2) Subsequently, since 2012, many states have issued a waiver, so they are no longer conforming with the Administration’s requirements.
In the last year of the Obama Administration, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was enacted to replace NCLB. This new act places more emphasis on both equal opportunity and accountability at the same time. Tests will remain mandatory, but their timing would be more flexible. That is, states could regulate the spent time for a test. (3) However, as Trump was sworn into office, the days of the U.S. Department of Education seem to be numbered. The new Secretary for Education, Betsy DeVos, suspended the accountability regulations of the Obama Administration. This step is in the crosshairs, as others say that this reversal would harm vulnerable students.
Source: Meier, D & Woods, G (2004): Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press, p. 36.
Calls to Action
- Read ‘No Child Left Behind’ Has Failed by Lily Eskelsen García & Otha Thornton (2015).
- Read NCLB: ‘Too Destructive To Salvage’ by Alfie Kohn (2007).
- Read With Passage of Every Student Succeeds Act, Life After NCLB Begins by Tim Walker (2015).
- Do you want to take part in a life-changing experience abroad? If you are aged between 18 and 30, do not hesitate to hit that Sign Up Button in the top right corner. AIESEC will be in touch!
– Gergely Lázár
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