Exam…the four lettered word that could send shivers down any student’s spine. Along our almost 16 years of school and university education (sorry medical and engineering students, you guys are still staying more), we can vouch that exams are probably the most stressful part of our academic lives. When we have an exam coming up, we have to do a lot of preparation, a lot of studying, and a whole lot of worrying. We sit in a classroom where our thinking process has to be timed to the duration of the exam. Then after that, our responses are assessed according to the teacher’s rubric_which varies from one teacher to another_and we are given a letter grade as an indication of how well we did on that exam. We have grown so accustomed to the idea of exams that we no longer think about its effectiveness anymore. Do they really serve their purpose?
During the past years, there has been an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of standardized testing as a tool to assess students’ performance. Some people argue that such tests do not cater to the students’ different backgrounds, modes of thinking, and capabilities. People are diverse and each excel in a different area, so how can we expect that a single test that is usually rigidly constructed and measuring only a limited area of knowledge and skills, be representative of a whole body of students?
Yeah this could all sound convincing and all, but what could be the alternative, you might ask. How can we then measure the students’ performance, how can we compare them to each other, how can we compare a certain school to another, and even how can we compare a country to a country?
Some have suggested the “portfolio-based assessment”, discussed in this article. It is basically about the teacher gathering the students’ work along the course of a specific subject then assessing his/her progress and how they learned from the subject through student reflections. Later on, random sampling can be used to compare a school or a country’s results to another. It is essentially about choosing random portfolio samples and assessing the progress. This approach is a good idea actually because it measures the students’ performance over a long period of time rather than over one single test.
Another method is the PBAT, also known as performance-based assessment tests, which include, “an analytic essay, a social studies research paper, a science experiment, and an applied mathematics problem.” This method has not yet been tested a lot, but it definitely appears promising due to its incorporation of several aspects of assessment rather than just one, which gives educators a chance to evaluate students more broadly.
Okay so now that we have explored a couple of alternatives for standardized tests, are they still that bad? Don’t they have any pros? In fact, they have plenty. Such tests give the opportunity to parents to see how their children are doing. They are mostly objective because the answers are graded upon a specific rubric usually without any attributes of the students. They make it easier to compare results with other students, schools, and countries. Read more about the pros and cons of standardized testing here.
So apparently reaching a conclusive answer to what constitutes the best way to assess the educational quality of a country cannot be determined through one post, not even numerous research papers. This vital matter requires lots of examination, research, and analysis. I believe it would also differ among the different countries because each has varied educational facilities and diversified cultures. Nevertheless, the most important thing we should keep in mind is the process of students’ learning itself. We should not overwhelm ourselves with how we assess the learning before we make sure students are actually learning something worthwhile. Then the impact of that will be reflected in society.
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