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Monday, 31 December 2012

The Case Against Standardized Testing

Source: The Book Depository
Standardise examinations is a big part of the Malaysian education system. After 11 years studying in the mainstream public school, it's hard for me to imagine a different kind of  education system, one that doesn't make you sit for examinations every now and again.

Standardised examinations or testing is aimed at measuring the performance of every student using a set of standardised criteria. Students are given the same test papers with the same set of questions and same level of difficulty. Preferably the test should be given at the same time and place. Standardised testing is often perceived as a fair way of measuring students' performance.

This perception has gone largely unchallenged by society and even experts. We sat through The SPM (Form 5), PMR (Form 3), and UPSR (Year 6) examinations and have come to accept them as part of life.

Educationalist Alfie Kohn argues in his book, The Case Against Standardized Testing, that standardised assessment is not the best way of measuring students' performance. As he lengthily explains, standardised examination does little to prepare students for life real. For example, we're not allowed to ask other people for answers during examinations. In real life, especially in the workplace, we need to, in fact have to, consult our superiors, peers, subordinates, and experts whenever we're finding answers to our problems. With too much emphasis on examinations, we may overlook the importance of teaching students problem solving skills.

Standardised examination also suffers from a 'paradox of fairness.' We'd like to believe that every student have an equal chance of doing well in the examination. This is couldn't further from the truth. Kohn cites a number of studies done on the effect of the students' socio-economic status on their achievement. Students from minority group, rural, and lower class income families often do not have the same access to opportunities and assistance as the rest of the school. They often end up doing poorly in standardised examinations. The same thing is happening here in Malaysia.

There is a list of other concerns that Kohn addresses here, some of them are issues related to the US education system. It's a book that will make parents and educators re-think relevance of examinations and value of their examinations result.

With some experience in the teaching profession, I know how students can learn to beat the tests. Once they become familiar with the tests' pattern, the validity of the tests become suspect. Basically, the tests have become a complete waste of time because they are no longer measure students' understanding. Just like how a expert liar can bluff his way through a lie detector test.

The good news is there are other forms of assessment that can help our students develop a balanced and holistic skill set. Portfolios and projects show a clearer picture of what the students have learned and their progress, compared to looking at test scores alone. In fact, teachers and parents can actively participate in the students' learning process. They can ask the students critical questions about their work and listen to their responses and level of enthusiasm.

According to the recently announced Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, development of the students' creativity and leadership skills has been made part of its Shift 1. This will done by revamping examinations and putting more focus thinking skills. Although this is certainly a commendable move, does this means standardised examinations is here to stay?

We'll just have to wait and see.

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