Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sitting here, bored, as my students take a social studies test, once again I am intriguied with how much testing has permeating the school day. I wonder if it does result in increased learning, or if we are just wasting time.

Before all the high stakes testing pressure, my classes were less about assessment and more about time on task learning. I like to think we accomplished more without all the class time spent on reviewing before a test, taking tests, looking at how well they did, analyzing what went wrong with instruction, reteaching, retesting....

The flipside is, were they really retaining information long term before? Does regular summative assessment help students retain information better?

I think it does. Never before did I see students studying, really studying, committing those learned skills and information to their long term memory. It was like we learned it, did it in class, and then moved on. Sure, some of them may have grasped enough to retrieve those skills in the future when needed, but often, it was a skate-by proposition at best.

A fair number of students still struggle, for a variety of reasons - lack of prerequisite skills, lack of parental support, lack of personal motivation - and yes, some simply because they do not click with me and my style of teaching. But honestly, it seems to me, more students are learning and retaining more than ever before.

When I first started teaching math 8 years ago, I seldom gave even chapter tests, never gave quizzes. Now, at least once a week, sometimes more often, we have a quiz over a small amount of material. This gives me a chance to stop and address misconceptions before moving too far past. I seldom skip a chapter test, feeling that the review and testing process somehow reinforce those skills one more time into students' long term memory vault.

Is it a perfect system? No, not even close... Is it a process headed in the right direction? I like to think so!

Am I conceding that all the high stakes NCLB testing is relevant and necessary? Heavens NO!! I am just coming to realize that in my own classroom, more assessment embedded into instruction is a good thing, a step in the right direction.

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