Monday, August 3, 2009

A Testing Culture

As we were visiting classes last week, the students were writing exams. The students here write a great number of exams. They write national exams at certain grade levels, practice exams for the national exams, and of course, local exams. When I chatted with a few teachers today about how to evaluate students, tests and written homework assignments were the two suggested assessment methods

The national testing program definitely puts pressure on the teachers here. Student grades on these tests determine what kind of high school the students are eligible to attend. The best marks get into the best secondary schools. Student eligibility for university is also determined by grades on national exams. Students who do not score high enough will not get into university. Schools are judged by the success of their students on these exams. There is a tremendous orientation toward preparing students for these exams.

I think that this is creating a testing culture. The school system is revolving around the tests rather than the learning. When this level of importance is placed on exams, it is difficult to appreciate the place of other forms of assessment. It will be difficult to convince teachers of the benefits of cooperative learning and project work. It takes a leap of faith to try new approaches and trust that, with better learning taking place, the students will perform even better on the exams.

I am hopeful, however. One teacher, in particular, expressed things very well after today’s sessions. She said, “So, we are killing our students.” She gets it, and after just one day! I hope that the conversations will continue and that we will be able to convince several to challenge this culture of testing and try some new approaches to evaluation.

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