February 09, 2012
Each year analysts and the public spend a great deal of time reviewing the performance of students in the National Senior Certificate examinations. When the annual national assessments become more high stakes, these too will attract similar scrutiny and interest. But aren’t we testing too much? I recently observed that one Northern suburbs high school looses six weeks of teaching time a year to examinations. Can we improve an education system by simply testing more? A good friend of mine has always said that “you can’t fatten a pig by weighing it”. I agree with her. Too much testing still focuses on the recall of information and does not develop critical thinking skills, and often teachers don’t have the time to do item analysis and to use information to improve teaching.
Outcomes-based education set out to use a range of different types of assessment. However, formal tests are still king and a good deal of a teacher’s time is spent setting and correcting tests. Most of the teachers I speak to argue that testing is very necessary. “You have to prepare learners for exams” some say. Other argue that school districts expect them to set so many tests.
Isn’t it time for us to start a critical conversation on the value of tests and testing?