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Why We Test Testing Alternatives

A secondary question becomes: Are we attempting to measure the student's progress by testing, or are we measuring the teacher's lesson plans and ability to teach? The teacher needs some reassurance that the subject matter is being presented in such a manner that the students are learning, as evidenced by the grades received on tests. If the grades are good, the teacher must be doing a good job. If the grades are very low, then perhaps the lesson plans need to be changed.

Are there alternatives to testing as a measurement of learning? Naturally. Simple observation is an appropriate alternative. If the student couldn't do multiplication at the start of the semester but had the ability to multiply by the end of the semester, then learning has taken place. Why the ordeal of a test? If the student couldn't write a simple paragraph last month, but can this month, something has been learned. Why the need to test?

Student introspection (self-assessment) is another method for measuring learning. The teacher simply asks the student what he or she has learned. Most elementary school children are very honest. They will tell you what they learned or what they didn't learn. They will state that they did the best they could, or that possibly they could have done better. So why the need for testing?

One answer to this question is that the entire educational system or environment is built on tests and grades. If the elementary school teacher simply observed students and wrote individual evaluations (similar to kindergarten and early elementary grades), then what would happen when the child reached high school? The high school principal or counselor would want to know what? The student's grades! One of the criteria for admission to college is adequate grades. Eventually, a prospective employer may even ask to see a transcript of courses and grades.