To Test or not to Test

For those of you that were unaware, I just completed my Pre-Internship, or to be more specific, I just finished being in a school for three and a half weeks observing, learning, and teaching.  That is a whole other conversation on its own, but I stated this to help give you guys a context.

So, as I said I finished my Pre-Internship last week, and so this week have been getting back into the groove of classes.  For the most part we have just been talking about and reflecting on our experiences within the school and particularly in the classroom.  When discussing common teacher practices for the purpose of assessment, one common element (especially when talking to a bunch of other math majors) of our experience is the use of tests as the summitave basis for assigning marks to students.  This intrigued me.  One member of our discussion group brought up the opinion that tests should instead be things by which we can truly see what students know so we know what to teach them next.  If a student only gets 40% on a test, would allowing that to be the be-all-end-all for that section of the course be the right thing to do?  That is the question.  I think that there is indeed value in using various forms of formative assessment to show the teacher what the students have yet to learn, and yet there still needs to be that summative form of assessment, as we as teachers are expected to put something in the student’s report cards to say how they did.

So, I think that one thing a teacher might do is to teach, give a test, evaluate the common elements the students are struggling with, teach more thoroughly those elements, and give another test.  The thing is, though, is that there needs to be that final assessment, and from what I have experienced, there are always going to be students that do not put the work in and so that no matter how many checks a teacher tries to put in place, students will still fail.  Until we get to the point where students are motivated to take hold of their own learning, there will still be students who fail from a lack of effort.  Overall, though, the more teacher is able to place checks to help students succeed, the better for students who are willing to put the effort in.

What do you think?  How should tests be used in the curriculum?  What other forms of summative assessment might be used in a subject like mathematics?  What checks do you think can be put in place to best help students to succeed?  And is there any set of procedures that might be done that will help every student?