School Tests Today
They're Not Just True or False Anymore
Remember cramming for your 10th-grade midterm on World War I? You probably went over and over notes of dates and famous leaders, committing them to memory: What was the date that the U.S. entered the war? Who was the President at the time? These questions test your powers of memory, and facts of this kind are most often tested in schools by multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank exams.
While we may not remember the answers to every question, most of us who learned this way feel a sense of commitment to learning about our culture and history. We worry when national polls report that over half of the country's graduates can't give the dates of the Civil War within 50 years.
Woodrow Wilson Who?
Some education critics suggest that memorization is a waste of time since factual information is readily available via computer. They feel that teaching students to problem solve and work in teams should be the mission of today's schools. On the other hand, the potential consequences of the famous phrase, "Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it" worries and angers people who support traditional studies and tests.
Most educational researchers feel that a balance of goals is critical for today's schools. In other words, higher-order thinking skills, such as analysis and problem solving, depend on a base of knowledge that's at the heart of traditional studies. The combination of learning information and applying it to new, real-life situations is what makes the knowledge valuable.
So What's New?
Performance assessments are growing in popularity. These ask a student to apply traditional learning to a real-life situation, such as applying facts learned in a science class about acid and alkaline to determine whether the pH level in a school yard soil sample is appropriate for growing various shrubs. Here the students use their knowledge of facts to problem solve. Small groups often work together, and exhibitions, oral presentations, and interviews may be part of the assessment. In this example, a final portion of the test might require the students to plant and tend the shrubs.
Assessing the New Assessments
When your children bring home lengthy projects to do, don't be afraid to ask teachers about the value of the assignments. Useful assessments help your child understand more about the subject being studied. Students should have to apply information they learned in class to another problem or task.
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