One of the first things that students leave behind when they graduate from school is the frequent use of testing. While it doesn’t completely go away — just getting a driver’s license will require taking a test — the daily or weekly use of tests and quizzes to measure our competency does not exist outside of school.
My feelings about myself were closely linked to the latest test score I got. I can recall the feelings of elation that came with studying hard for a test and getting an A.
I also remember the feelings I got when I didn’t study, took my chance on a test and did poorly.
There is no denying the carrot-stick effect of tests. The desire to do well and the pain of doing poorly.
The 3 feelings we all share that motivate us — competency, relatedness and autonomy — will pull and push students. But none is quite so easy for a teacher to control as competency. It only requires a test.
Tests are easy, efficient and scalable. Testing 30 students is almost as easy as testing 1.
And tests have a natural power. Children seek information about themselves — they are searching for data points to help determine how to feel about themselves. Tests are built to provide that data.
Tests are neither inherently good nor bad. They are tools that are simple, easy and powerful. And that combination of traits make them easy to overuse.
Fortunately, they are not the only way we can evaluate competency and motivate our students.
More on that tomorrow.