Why wouldn’t you want your teachers to know what you know?

Not taking the test

I can not stop thinking we are testing our students for all the wrong reasons. Yes they need grades to attend university, and yes grades are mostly used to differentiate; who gets to go where, as far as studies at university are concerned. Still, If you really want to learn and do well in university; why would you cheat to get a good grade? Why wouldn’t you want your teachers to know, that there are certain areas where you need more help? If assessment throughout the year was just that; a way for the teachers to figure out what their students need to work on, and if it was the same way for the students, “I need to know how to get better? What then?

Many teachers do not use grades in formative assessment.  Just comments on where the students are and where they need to go. If admittance to universities and colleges reflected that, what then? If they had admission tests instead of grade requirements? Would our students be more motivated to learn? When I attended a language course in France the summer I was 16, I cheated on the placement test. The result; the summer course was way too difficult for me. Ok, I was 16, lesson learned. I still wonder if this is what is happening in school. The results are more important than learning.

These thoughts were inspired by the post by Will Richardson. I am sharing his blog post here:

Why do we need a test to show us what our students have “learned”?

Seriously. I’m asking.

It would seem to make more sense that what students learn should be transparent from day 1, not just captured in a number or score on day 45, or 180 or 2,160. I mean, shouldn’t we be able to see their learning inform and enhance their practice? Shouldn’t we be focusing on them doing something with what they’ve learned rather than simply telling it back to us at some predetermined hour?

Apparently, we don’t know what they’ve learned until they take that test and get that score. Until they’ve studied or crammed or been tutored or, in some cases, cheated their way to a number.

Because apparently, that makes us “accountable.” That’s what makes it “count.”

We’re sending some pretty unhealthy messages to our kids when we make it about a snapshot in time rather than a lifetime of learning.


  1. The difficulty, today, is many parents grew up in a system leading to where we are. They’ve been conditioned to support or fight a system without a clear understanding of what education is. Without a strong educational compass, often what they’re arguing for creates divide and never really addresses the problems and solutions.
    I am grateful that I grew up while schools were still state ran, and I think the family moving led me to see different schools and teachers so I was never quite “adjusted” to any system. After high school, I went to college, but between stints, worked many jobs in a variety of venues (i.e. zoo, restaurant, and so forth). This led to my thinking for myself, and when I returned to complete my education, I did so with my own understanding and my own agenda.
    I think this helped me, including working in summer camps, to see what real understanding and learning is. It’s not in a book. It’s not in a computer program. It’s not in those weekly tests. Yes, we can pore over data and perhaps raise test scores, but that doesn’t lead to creativity, self-interest, and curiosity, much of which leads kids to want to know. That understanding, that curiosity, that wanting to know, that making mistakes and picking one’s self up again because the kids aren’t afraid of failing, is what leads kids to finding their way in life, and not on our time-schedule.
    As a teacher, I see ensuring students know the basics (i.e. reading, answering questions, multiplications tables to automaticity as well as addition and subtraction, writing, and so forth) as necessary. However, I don’t want to meander there long. Learning about science, creating projects, understanding cause and effect and then using the understanding in practice.
    A friend and I have discussed this at length. He found humorous my comment about how easy it is to teach. It really is. Adverbs? Done in twenty minutes. Of course, it needs to be revisited, but as the kids and teens write essays, stories, plays and such, they’ll use these tools without thinking about adverbs, prepositions, and such. Why? Because we revisit in small amounts, and praise when their grammar improves, not to mention reading texts and books/magazines they like.
    But why, as a teacher, would I want’ to forever teach a group basics? Learn those, so we can go on to higher projects, learnings, and use the tools we’ve gained to research interesting topics such as famous people, astronomical anomolies, and more.
    Like I’ve said before, my job as a teacher is to work myself out of a job. I want those kids to grow more and more independent of me, working together, and I am there to bring more interesting projects and lessons. There will always be a new group of kids needing me. Then, again, I attempt to work myself out of a job. If I do this well, I’ve truly earned my paycheck and maybe more.
    Grades are necessary for teachers to have some guidelines as to how the students are doing. It’s also necessary to assess whether a child needs to remain in grade for lack of effort or understanding. Test help teachers know what the students know inside, but the daily work, the discussions, are also a big part.

  2. Yes. It’s not so much what we can remember by rote, but what we understand. The tests demonstrates capture of information. But the understanding lasts a lifetime.

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