Editor’s note: This article was first published on Fahad Hassan’s personal blog.
In Sal Khan’s book, One World School House, he talks about testing generally as a bad and incomplete concept. I don’t entirely agree with his premises that testing doesn’t tell us as much as we might want to know about a particular student. Let me give an example of his synthesis and what went through my mind as I read one particular paragraph:
“Testing tells us little or nothing about the why of right or wrong answers. In a given instance, does a mistake suggest an important concept missed or only a moment’s carelessness? If a student fails to finish an exam, did she give up in frustration or simply run out of time? Given the time she needed, how well might she have done? On the other hand, what does a correct answer tell us about a student’s quality of reasoning? Was the correct answer the result of deep understanding, a brilliant intuition, rote memorization, or a lucky guess? Usually it’s impossible to tell. (page 92, The One World School House)”
Although I agree that one test can’t give you an entire picture of how a student performs, it does help teachers gage where a student currently is in their mastery curve (something he points out). Yes, looking at an incorrect answer as Sal contends doesn’t necessarily tell you if the student ran out of time, took a bad guess, or simply doesn’t know the concept, but the more I talk to teachers the more I realize they usually have a deeper understanding of their kids that gets lost in our nations conversations on student testing. Most teachers will know based on other study materials leading up to a test such as homework assignments, quizzes, projects, and other items why a student may or may not of gotten a question incorrect. Let’s not forget a test isn’t randomly given to a group of students. Usually it’s an entire month or unit of work that contains a myriad of information for the teacher leading up to that test. If the teacher is effectively left guessing as to why a student missed a question on a test after weeks of other supplemental work leading up to that test — the test isn’t the problem at that point.
I would even go so far as to contend that the best teachers usually know exactly why a student missed a particular question or bombed a concept within that test. It’s closed minded to assume we can derive everything on a student from a correct or incorrect answer on a test — but it’s also close minded to only assume that test is the single measuring stick in a given unit of instruction for a child’s progress. There is nothing wrong with giving tests to measure student progress as long as it’s not the only measuring stick.
I don’t think Sal is entirely against testing or believes it is the root of all evil. In fact, he believes it needs reform and can aid in the learning process, but in this one particular example he gave I felt like his analysis was incomplete.