the testing monster

I was astounded to see a BBC news headline that read "Testing 'should be intesified'". The idea that the high-stakes testing and attitudes that have roiled the US (and engendered NCLB and other "skills" tests) have reached England is not a shocking one--after all, they have traditionally had the GCSE and A level tests. However, as these tests are used to score the schools rather than the teachers, they are not the same sort of *how good is jane at physics* tests that are familiar to those in the UK school system. The responsibility for the pass or fail of the tests has moved away from the students to the teachers. This shift cannot be over-emphasized. Where previously the tests were seen as a test of the students' abilities, (however short-sighted and lacking that may be) they have now become tests of schools and whether or not they are doing the job.

This article struck me because it means that testing has now become something divorced from the students themselves. Although we continually talk about students needing to show basic skills and learn them before they graduate, the dialogue never includes the realization that tests teach absolutely nothing. Tests are not learning tools, they are assessment tools, and that means that each week spent on testing is a week not spent on learning. The discussion about whether these tests even assess what happens in the classroom aside, we should ask ourselves, as educators, if we can let anymore of our time be taken--anywhere. Clearly this is not a problem just in the UK, and the spin that tests somehow help learning must be addressed here in the US as well. The dialogue and language used in these discussions has been taken away from teachers and students, and it is too important to give up. To have a thoughtful discussion on testing, we must make sure we are not confusing it (or using it as a substitute for) learning.