Friday, March 19, 2010

Will this be on the test?

I am writing a test for my study skills class. It is 44 questions with both multiple choice and short answer. It is eight pages long and there are two forms. This is a big project for me as I wrote very few tests during my tenure as an early childhood teacher. Last year, when I taught an undergrad measurements class, instead of giving a final I asked the students to write their own.

What better way to find out if students in a class, teaching test writing, have learned how to write tests?

I am not a big fan of tests and because of my graduate level educational measurement class I know all too well why high stakes testing is a bad idea; a very bad idea, indeed.

I could tell some stories that would make your number two pencil curl.

My professor in the measurement class just gave us a stinker of a test. It was a take home test that took every spare minute over three days. When I finally finished the last question I realized that question, alone, took me an hour and a half. When he told us about the test, the professor bragged that no one had ever gotten 100% on the test before.

Really??? Srlsy?? No one?

So what does that say about the test and/or his teaching? I had the nerve to ask him what the reliability coefficient was on this test and he turned a bit pale and mumbled something I couldn't quite get down into my notes.

Dear Lord, grab my tongue and hold it down.

When I gave tests to elementary students, the test covered what we had studied and I considered it a good thing when all, or at least most of the students did a good job. Now, when I write test questions, I am supposed to write them with seductive distracters so they discriminate between poor learners and good learners. In other words, I should want some of my students to fail.

Hmmm, sounds like an excuse for poor teaching to me. But, then, what do I know? I am just a graduate student.

The issues surrounding testing in education are complicated and contentious. Are tests being used correctly? Are they telling us what we need to know? How much learning time can we afford to sacrifice to make room for more testing? Are tests really making education better, or just more competitive? Do test prepare students for the real world?

God's view of testing is very different. He allowed Job to be tested and then stepped in and gave Job the answers. God does not use testing to weed out the unbelievers from the believers; He will do that on the last day. God uses testing to teach and to bring about growth.

When our faith is tested, we become acutely aware of our need for answers. Although it is a good thing to participate in a study group; we can't prepare for our trials and tribulations. And although it is a good thing to study God's word; we can't study enough to be ready for a test of faith. We need our Teacher to give us the answers. We need our Teacher to complete the test for us.

And in that process we learn and grow in our faith.

It is not God's desire for us to fail. In fact it is His command that we succeed, and do so perfectly. God is the instructor who knows that we are not up to the task. We do not compete with each other; we compete with our own sinful nature. We fail at the test, we learn to trust in Him, and at the end of our semester the grade is reported as 100%.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5: 3-5

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