Tests are flawed

By | February 14th, 2005 | 15 Comments | General | School

Is it really a level playing field for students? Can everyone get an A+ if they try hard enough?

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Today I was particularly annoyed during french. Last week we had taken a test that I had a feeling I was going to get an exceptionally good grade on. I received an 86% (which is actually pretty good for french). The thing that bugged me was the fact that I could have so easily gotten much higher (93%) if I had read the instructions more carefully. Now I admit that this was 110% my fault for not reading the directions and doing what I was supposed to do. I was more pissed at myself than anything else. The directions said to answer the questions, but I chose to translate them instead. Now my translations were perfectly correct, and if that’s what my teacher had asked for, I would have gotten 93%. Instead of giving me partial credit for this blunder, she marked the whole thing wrong, which may or may not have been fair.

The part that gets to me has nothing to do with french, myself, or my teacher. What bugs me is the tests. To start off, what are teachers asking for when they give us a test? Depending on who you ask, they are a) Seeing how well they are teaching you b) Seeing how well you pay attention and do your work c) Finding excuses to fail you d) Seeing your ability to cram.

Many of the tests I take fall into category d. And, in my opinion, they are the worst kind. I’d really like to know how many people could ace the same tests they aced two years ago if they were given no time to study. I doubt many people would do as well as they did. The current system measures your willpower to study and cram.

There are many kids, myself included, who never used to study and maybe still don’t. They paid attention in class, did their homework, and come test-day, they would know everything to ace the test. Well in high school, things have changed. With a 7 class, 8 hour school-day, its getting harder and harder to work like that.

Back to tests. What do they reflect on the student who took it? How gifted they are (paying attention etc.). I recently had an argument with Ian: Does everyone have the same potential? Is it really a level playing field for students? Can everyone get an A+ if they try hard enough? In my opinion, no. Some people just can’t do it. I don’t know if this is a fair comparison but here goes: If I tried hard enough, could I win a gold medal in the olympics? Not bloody likely. There is some inherent attribute that separates elite from the rest. These people have a much better chance of succeeding in life.

Again, I’ve digressed. Tests in their current state are bad. I suggest a bigger helping of projects. In the freshman debates, I learned more than any other 3 weeks of school. It was real-life experience. We had to cope with working in a team, deadlines, and still had math and english in the mix. We had to present speeches in front of large crowds, debate, and do research. That was a damn good project if you ask me. I think projects should account for a much higher percentage of your grade, where tests should be less. Tests just show the teacher how sticky your brain is. It is good to measure that, to make sure the curriculum is working, but should they really be 70% of your grade? It would be better to apply your test grades to the teacher, and have them get paid for how well their class is performing. Of course, what would be the motivation for students? What if the teachers got a lame class of dumb kids?

Grades are the key to success in life. Good grades = good college = good job = good life. Or something.. :? At your job, does it matter if you can cram? I wouldn’t think so. So schools aren’t preparing us well for the “real” world.” I should write a book… :o .


There've been 15 whole comments

7:13 am on 2/16/2005 1. Nella

First off, the first paragraph is a fantastic example of how tests will prepare you for real life. READ THE DIRECTIONS!!! Do you really think that you’re never instructed to do anything once you leave high school? This is teaching you a skill that is totally and completely necesary in your life. If you don’t know how to do this, it doesn’t matter how well you know the subject, you’ll still get it all wrong.

The thing is, you need some way to measure students’ academic achievement so there can be desicions about who gets into the better collages. You didn’t propose any alternatives, so I suppose I’ll just argue if tests are good or bad, and not if they’re better than anything else.
You said you want more projects. You said these things are great because you learn teamwork, speaking skills, how to follow deadlines, etc. I enjoyed the renewal project very much as well, but the thing is, very little of what I learned was actually knowledge. For the people who are aren’t as good at team building skills, or speaking in front of crowds, maybe this is what they come to school for. But personally, I am on a quest for knowledge. Of course it was a valuable experience, but if I had to do a project like this any more often than we do, I would eventually find it a waste of time. Because once I completely mastered those skills, I would no longer be learning anything. I mean, that’s why we went to NYLSC, right?

As for people’s potential stuff, I do think everyone has the capability to apply themselves, but that may go only so far in some people. The key to success is listening, taking in what others have said. Many very intelligent people have the problem that, istead of listening to the teacher, they are talking with their friends. Those people are fully capable of turning their heads and listening to the discussion, without worrying about who has a crush on whom. I guarentee a signifigant raise in their grade.
As for the people who try as hard as they possiblly can and still can’t keep up, well, they do need to be identified. And that’s what tests show. 1) how much you apply yourself, and 2) how intellegent you actually are. But I think #1 makes a much larger impact on how well you do on tests.

So you think people don’t cram for there job? You think there are no deadlines in the real world? Do you think the real world won’t have tests, either? You’re always going to have to prove how much you know in one way or another, and by far the most efficient way I can think of is tests.

10:05 pm on 2/16/2005 2. Jackie

“Many very intelligent people have the problem that, istead of listening to the teacher, they are talking with their friends.”
Hmm…now who could I think of that could possibly do that?

Now as we all have figured out by now my purpose in life is to counter just about everything Ian says. :) I do agree with you on some cases, but here goes:
#1 “Do you think the real world won’t have tests, either?”
Of course the real world has tests, but they’re not like the tests we take in school. Real world tests are whether you can make a profit or can you manage to teach a classful of hormone raged children. I cannot think of a single profession that has you sit around at a desk all day and answer questions about subjects you have studied the night before for that very purpose. (I know you’ll have a quick counter for this one…but oh well) Sure maybe you need to take proficiency tests as a teacher or doctor to make sure that you know what you’re doing, but this is a pass or fail deal. Acing a test that asks about what you need to know is nothing compared to the reports of children or patients whose lives have been changed. I think Andrew has a point. Why should we spend so much time in school preparing for something that we will rarely use beyond college.
#2 “But personally, I am on a quest for knowledge.” Can’t this be done without testing? If you are so intent on this quest, go out and do it! You don’t need to prove that you know something in order to actually know it. Minor point…
#3 “Because once I completely mastered those skills, I would no longer be learning anything.” I’m sorry, but I find it excruciatingly difficult to believe that anyone will ever learn everything there is to know about working with people. If you have….well then you’re a frickin genious.
#4 “I mean, that’s why we went to NYLSC, right?” What does this prove…only a select few attend this program.

I do believe in some of the points you brought up, Ian, such as that tests need to be compared to an alternative. You have to think, if I became a teacher, would I want to work with projects every week, and figure out how to grade and assess my students at the same time. As we all noticed, the judging system for the debate projects was flawed in that it did not accurately depict the grades that many deserved. Tests are objective, *most of the time* fairly simple to grade, and as Ian said, show whether or not the student knows the material (or at least knew it at the time of the test). However, there should not be so much of an emphasis on doing well on tests as on learning the material. Test taking is becoming such an important skill nowadays due to the importance of standardized testing to get into good colleges, and its sad because in the end, this skill does not help you very much. I’m not saying we should do away with tests-they have many, many merits which must be addressed, but there are also many problems with them.
***Yay for projects***-that’s where you learn (not teaches you) real life skills. Tests are a checkup point for whether you listen to lecture, whether you pay attention and have a good memory for facts and concepts.

10:07 pm on 2/16/2005 3. Jackie

Oh yeah…and who cares about how intelligent you are? As long as the job gets done, and gets done well, everyone is happy

10:32 pm on 2/16/2005 4. Sam

The thing is, you need some way to measure students’ academic achievement so there can be desicions about who gets into the better collages. You didn’t propose any alternatives, so I suppose I’ll just argue if tests are good or bad, and not if they’re better than anything else.

First off, there is an alternative to testing. If a teacher teaches students in a classroom, they do assignments, such as homework and class work. Through these things a teacher can see how “smart” or “dumb” a student is, they can see how much effort they put into their work and what they’re interested in. Most teachers can tell the academic capabilities of a student before they are tested. Most teachers can predict how students will do on a test, because they know what they can or will attempt to achieve, by no means do I mean that no one ever bombs a test but they can find a rough average.

Revoking tests by no means gives teachers no ground to judge students capabilities (i.e. give them grades). I have nothing wrong with giving students grades.

My main point is:

Teachers should be able to tell the academic level of a student without testing them.

First off if the teacher cannot do this because there are too many students in a class, or they teach too many students throughout the day. The obvious answer to that problem is for them to teach fewer students. All teachers should know about their students, and if the teacher has too many students to know about them they shouldn’t have that many students.

Second if even with a very small amount of people in a teacher’s class and they still do not know about their students, they should not be teaching, that’s harsh but it’s true. Teachers should have the social skills to be able to understand (if primitively) about their students.

Tests are for those teachers that are week and cannot assess students intelligence, those teachers should not be teaching. There are only 5 different grades (for those of you that don’t know they are) A, B, C, D, and F. There’s no need for a teacher to compare a student with a 93% and a 98%. It’s an A who gives if it’s a really good A or a suck A it’s a darn A. With only the decision between 5 different options, teachers should be able to accurately asses students’ capabilities, they do not have to asses them to an exact percent, that is a silly waste of time.

A notice to be accounted for, the above statements are most relevant with teachers below the college teaching level. College teaching level is an entirely different subject thus should be debated elsewhere.

Teachers have the ability to tell how intelligent a student is even without testing them.

I’m sorry if any teachers have been offended by this post. I have the right to freedom of speech, thus you cannot actually do anything about it.


10:57 pm on 2/16/2005 5. Nella

Okay, since you’ve taken the liberty to make a list of this paragraph form, I shall follow suit.
#1 The tests we take in school are simply ways to test us on the knowledge we have obtained. Of course you don’t sit around the night before in the real world learning everything you need to execute a task the following day, but that’s not what you’re supposed to do with tests either!!! You’re supposed to listen in class while the topic is discussed so that come the test, you know the material. Any test that is specifically designed for students to cram for is, of course, bullshit. But that’s not how tests are designed, tests are designed to cover what was said in class, and if you actively participate, then you will have nothing to worry about. And that’s how the real life works. You learn about whatever the subject matter may be over time before displaying the knowledge you have comsumed.
#2 The quest for knowledge thing was about if we had to do projects/debates all the time. I really didn’t aquire very much otherwise usable knowledge in researching my debate topic, and if I was constantly doing these projects and never had to listen to lectures or complete worksheets, I might have some pretty damn good group working skills, but that won’t make a difference if I can’t apply it to anything. We still need lectures. And in order to tell how well people take in what is said, a test is necisary.
#3 Umm…kinda already answered it in the last one…
#4 It only worked because andrew was the one arguing it.

A little off topic, but I think that tests will solidify the information. For me at least. Like, if I spend two hours studing a topic, and then never come back to it again, I’m gonna forget the whole damn thing. It’s just my nature! But if the next day I’m tested on the subject while it’s still fresh in my mind, it will still be there later when the day finally arrives to apply it to real life. This is just me, I don’t know whether or not it’s true for others.

If you have learned the material as you say, then do you really think the test will be a problem for you? The actual taking of tests may not be a life skill, but being tested on knowledge in one way or another most certainly is. And tests are still completely and totally necisary for measuring acedemic excellence. I can’t really believe in your cause until someone proposes an alternative.

Who does care how intelligent you are? I don’t. That’s exactly what I was saying. Modivation far outweighs actual intelligence, that’s why I believe people are capable of anything they set their mind to. All andrew was saying is that people who have a high intelligence often don’t have to put out as much effort to produce the same result, which I agree to. But a complete dumbass can do far better on anything if he really tries than a genious will if he just doesn’t care.

Oh, and your little deelie at the top of you comment? I agree, often times I am one of the most loud, disruptive, obnoxious and many times downright rude student in many of our classes, But you know what? Even if I do talk with friends constantly, I have enough sense to know when I’m actually genuinly learning something, and when that happens I will give it as much attention as it takes to get these concepts into my head. It’s the people who put socializing in class before learning that will end up with the bad test grades.

11:14 pm on 2/16/2005 6. Nella

Sam what about collage classes that have 50+ students, and one professor? Half the students never say anything in class. The other alternatives are to assign essays or reports, but those have major flaws too! The really beautiful writers will be far better at this, even if they don’t know the subject as thougholy, they will be able to present it in a clear, forward manner that maybe someone who has a very deep understanding of the topic cannot. Tests are the raw knowledge that you have aquired, and that is always the major part of an education.
And you think the teachers just assuming how good their students are has no room for error? Think about the controversy that would stir! There would be so many kids saying that they should have better grades, but there’s nothing to prove it. There would be teachers who just plain don’t like certain students, and would fail them accordingly. And whats more, the students who did deserve to fail would be constantly using the excuse that the teacher hated them. It’s okay if your participation grade is 20% give or take, but testing of how well the knowledge presented was ingested still must be the priority of the grade.
And this presents an opportuninty for very good students as well. What if, first semester, a kid acted like a total goodie-goodie and always did everything the teacher asked, and was a complete suck-up. Then the second semester the kid is completely free to slack off because the teacher is already in love with him and thinks he’s completely on top of all the reading that was assigned or something, so he doens’t have to do shit! Just keep up with the homework, slap on a phony smile whenever the teacher looks at him, and all that hard work first semester is all he needs to get an A in the class.
Many of my teachers are far to incompentent to give everyone a fair grade with nothing solid to go on. I would rather learn the material than learn the best way to suck up to teachers.

6:58 am on 2/17/2005 7. Jackie

Hey Andrew, does the last part of Ian’s post ring a bell? I think we did that in the first two weeks! :)

I agree, there really is no way that the system of grading could be on just the teacher knowing what grade their student deserves, there’s too much room for error. However, that doesn’t mean that the teachers shouldn’t know what grades the students deserve. Any half decent teacher should be able to figure this out w/o a problem.

I’d have to say that the whole testing problem completely depends on what class you are being tested in. Take math…we could listen to lecture, do the homework, then take a project rather than take a test. However, what math teacher wants to think up a project for every chapter that truly demonstrates your knowlege? Plus, there is not enough time in the school year to do this. However, in a language class, I think there is too much stress on tests. Sure these can see if you have learned the vocab or not, but I think that in this sort of class there should be more projects with communication and how to use the language.
I should probably stop and go to school now…:)

8:48 pm on 2/17/2005 8. Andrew

A notice to be accounted for, the above statements are most relevant with teachers below the college teaching level. College teaching level is an entirely different subject thus should be debated elsewhere. — Sam

Sam what about collage classes that have 50+ students, and one professor? Half the students never say anything in class. — Ian

Ubba dubba. Also, learn to spell!

I’ve got to admit I felt really good after taking the math test today. I had all those warm fuzzies you get when you know you did well. One thing that pissed me off at myself: When I went to go turn in my test, Ms. Klein looked at it for like 30 seconds and was like “Andrew, read the instructions to #7!” And it turned out I had to find the length of a two sides instead of one. I felt really dumb, especially after ranting about reading the directions. I was impressed with Ms. Klein though. Some teachers wouldn’t even look or anything and even if they did they wouldn’t say anything. Ms. Klein was testing how well I knew my math, not how well I read directions. I respect her greatly for that. Yet I still disrespect myself.

I’d also like to give a word about all the stress many students get from taking tests. Some feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never get an A. You can study for ages and still not succeed. It all depends on the quality of the test.

Mmm…quality tests. This reminds me of the STAR tests. They blow. In the very beginning, they tell you to always choose the “Best” answer. Yarrrg…adding opinion into the mix is a bad idea if you ask me. And what do STAR tests accomplish? They see how much funding our school will get. But really there is no motivation for the students. Do you think they give a crap if their school gets more funding? Bah, they couldn’t care less.

I beg to differ with suck-ups. Suck-ups never actually get an advantage. Teachers in high school go by statistics, how much homework you turned in, how well you did on tests etc. Tests are the easiest way for teachers to assess your progress. There is no way for them to be caught up on every little detail of their 150 students. They are humans too! We should replace them with robots :)

6:35 pm on 2/20/2005 9. Penguin

Well although you said something like Good grades = good college = good job = good life this isn’t exactly true, alot of very famous and rich people, excluding rappers, actors, and musicians weren’t the brightest in the grade department, for example Einstein, he never did well in school but almost everyone on earth knows his name. So in closing, although you may think that school is the most important thing it is anything but.

11:51 am on 2/26/2005 10. SuperDave

Everyone that has commented on this post is thinking too hard. They’re also clinically insane, I include myself but for unrelated reasons. Tests are as complicated as you make them to be, sure they could probe the inner workings of the taker, or they could just be things that make teachers jobs easier by providing substantial evidence to make the grading process less psychological.

William Shakespeare, the man who wrote the most defining play in the English speaking word, had a third grade education. And he was who he was, because that’s who he was.
So quit bitching about something that matters only as much as you want it to matter.

Its high time this subject got eaten alive by ravenous snapping turtles because I’m been hearing a lot of:

desicions about who gets into the better collages
-Ian, I think, Sam maybe?

time in school preparing for something
-Too lazy to check

I am loud, disruptive, obnoxious and rude

3:40 pm on 3/15/2005 11. A clam, an angry one at that

Your dad didn’t go to collage and he succeeded in life, so your argument is fundamentally flawed, besides the fact that cramming is unimportant, you shouldn’t have to cram if you understand the material or take you own time to get it when you feel like it.

6:30 pm on 3/15/2005 12. Sam

Your dad didn’t go to collage and he succeeded in life

Who’s dad didn’t go to college? What are you talking about? There is more then one person taking part in this post, thus using the word “your” does not specify whom you are talking about.

Please clarify your comment.


5:00 pm on 3/16/2005 13. A clam, an angry one at that

I was referring to the poster, Andrew

6:25 pm on 3/16/2005 14. Sam

Thank you for clarifying.

11:59 am on 4/18/2005 15. tsguitar

I don’t know where those Shakespeare “facts” came in, but I say we leave the Bard out of this.

Teachers and schools have been put in the unfortunate position of forcing the importance of tests on students. The STAR tests are coming up here in California. We have the High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) here, too. The SAT and ACT seem to crop up just about every other weekend. School are judged on how well students do on tests they don’t give a damn about. So, we have to push how they are important (and they really are to some extent). Wait, what’s my point? Oh yeah! I just wanted another stage to rant about standardized tests (a blog entry coming soon on that one). Really, though, tests are key in determining a certain aspect of a student’s academic progress. If my kids (students) can’t take a test, I need to know that. If they can’t remember what I said 50 times over the last 2 weeks, I need to know that. If they can’t focus during class lectures and synthesize what I said with their own experiences, we have a problem. Tests are one way of figuring this out.

I will note that tests don’t mean much in my class. 50% of a student’s grade is based on writing. They cannot fail the writing part of the course and pass the class. Tests go into a 30% category and are often worth very few points, relatively speaking. You should find out how your teacher weighs “tests” (everything in school tests you, doesn’t it? Here’s my Clinton impersonation: It depends on what your definition of “test” is).

But tests in general do prepare you for life (by the way, I hate that phrase “the real world.” Is high school fake?). Dealing with stress, having to perform on a moment’s notice, gathering your thoughts immediately, cramming information, all of these are good to prepare you for life outside the walls of your latest learning institution. You won’t use cramming? Uh, hello!? Ever heard of business presentations? Cramming information in about the latest client? Staying up all night planning the next slide show for the convention? It happens.

Andrew, it sounds like you simply didn’t read the directions and that’s a test-taking 101 rule. Reading the directions is part of the test and it’s important. Look into how the SAT is graded and you’ll see that reading the directions counts for a lot. That’s the case with all standardized tests. Didn’t read that direction about bubbling in the booklet code? Your entire test is dumped and you fail. Didn’t read the directions for how to initialize your latest techno gadget? You may have done damage to the battery. And what about cramming to learn the latest coding goodie just to impress the latest client? Tests ARE life outside of school. They just aren’t called tests and they are all essay answers (thanks to a Frank and Ernest cartoon for that one).

I teach English. I evaluate more than my students’ skills in English, though. I evaluate social skills (class conversations), cooperation (group work, obvious), responsibility (forgot the essay?), maturity (wait, were you just looking at someone else’s paper?), artistic ability (cheap stick figures or drawings with some consideration for detail regardless of fidelity?), historical knowledge (check out the CA State Standards for eleventh grade for how much historical background juniors are accountable for), and many more things. Yes, the ability to do something as simple as reading the directions is something else I test.

If your entire grade is based on tests, there may be a problem. Then again, it’s not as if you didn’t know that tests are 70% of your grade. If that’s the case, I’d say nothing is more important than a test in that class and should be treated as such. You can’t complain about being held to the directions laid out on the test simply because you *thought* you knew what was being asked of you. Can I venture forth a guess that you rushed through the test because you were annoyed at having to take it and just wanted to get on with your day?

Lastly, in regard to teachers getting paid based on student performance on tests (this is called merit pay and is an idea seriously being considered at the moment), I take no credit for their success and expect no blame for their failure. I am with a student 53 minutes out of a 24-hour day. How can I possibly bear the sole responsibility for that student’s degree of acumen in the English language? There are so many other influences in a student’s life. If I get a class of intuitive kids, they will learn their brains out in my class regardless of how well or poorly I do my job. And I get a bunch of lame-os, they won’t learn a single thing regardless of how well or poorly I do my job. Teacher pay linked to student performance on tests the students don’t care about (and why should they!?) is a horribly flawed idea. I will not accept pay for what my students do. I’ve always maintained that I would rip that check up. Again, how the students do on those tests should only be a part!
of the way a teacher is evaluated and it should be based on a test the students have incentive to do well on. The CAHSEE is a good candidate, but that only tests 10th grade standards.

Ok. I’ve rambled enough so I think I’ll go eat a little ice cream and turn in for the night. G’night and don’t forget to read the directions! Now, I wonder if I can open the back panel of this monitor and fix someth—AGGGAAACK!