This semester I decided to do away with tests in my HSB4U – Challenge and Change course. My initial thought was that this would be well received by my grade 12 students – and why wouldn’t it be, no one likes tests, right?
Wrong. Much to my surprise there was push back from a number of my students when I confirmed that there would be no tests. By my estimation it was roughly one third of the class who wanted traditional pen and paper tests. Why? Because they are “good” at tests. And when you are good at tests you get good grades. The problems is, as explained by one of my students, “you can’t get 100% on assignments”.
In my grade 9 Geography course I still have tests, they may not take the form of what some may call a traditional test but they are tests nonetheless. What I have changed is the types of questions that I ask. No longer is the focus on memorizing facts and terminology the student could otherwise “search up” on Google, but rather the student is presented with questions and problems requiring them to apply their knowledge and think critically. Often the students get the questions the day before, so they must like these new tests and do well, right?
Wrong again. Most of my grade 9 students have been struggling with these tests and don’t like them. Why? Because they have never been asked to do this before. They have been conditioned to memorize facts and terminology, regurgitate it the next morning onto a test paper, and then forget everything to make room for more facts. When asked to think about what they have learned and apply it to a new context they are often at a loss. The skill set isn’t there or it is poorly developed.
So, what is the answer then? Tests or not? By the time students get to grade 12 they have figured out school. They figured out marks, they figured out what they need to do to get good marks, they are now good at school. The end goal for them is a good grade and unfortunately, for many students, it can be as simple as having a good memory. We need to either change how we do tests, or do away with them entirely – students need to become good at thinking, processing, and problem solving and not good at school.