Perhaps Tests Aren’t So Bad

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I was working with my staff on science assessments this week.  We were very lucky to have a local professional developer, Karen Reinhardt, work with our teachers.  So why were we working on science assessments?  In truth, it was because our annual science assessment scores were only average and certainly not as good as our math and writing scores.  I must admit that this makes our school sound like so many others that go off chasing higher test scores.  I have met teachers from around the country who work in schools that have “thrown the baby out with the bath water” in order to meet NCLB targets.  But I was enjoying our work on science assessments and I’ll tell you why.

We were working on scientific inquiry tasks from Vermont’s annual science tests (see release tasks ).  Karen lead us through an authentic inquiry exercise – taking the 4th grade released task as students would.  As we took out our answer books and played with weights and sleds, a light bulb went off in my head.  I had thought tests like this one assessed a student’s knowledge of physics and I think a lot of teachers thought this too.  So what happens when students do not possess a deep knowledge of physics?  What if the test takes place before a unit on physics is taught?  Is the student doomed to fail?  They only fail if the test is assessing physics alone, and that is not what this test was doing.  This particular test was assessing a student’s ability to perform an experiment, record and interpret data, and employ critical thinking.  This is something I can totally get behind.  I was actually liking this annual science assessment.

So not all tests are bad.  If the way to achieve high scores on this test is to teach students to be critical thinkers, I’m all behind it.  I support my teacher’s work on developing authentic inquiry tasks because it is good teaching that leads to important learning.  Even if there was no annual, government required, science test, I would want my teachers to do this work.

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