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The Flaw in the Current Testing Model

By qaz2 in Op-Ed
Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 09:05:56 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Recently, there has been a fair amount of media attention on the subject of standardized testing. Proponents say that it is necessary to know how students are doing, while opponents argue that it causes "teaching to the test," resulting is less actually being taught. However, this debate is all superficial; it ignores the fact that the current testing model is inherently flawed.

In the current testing model, students learn material, take tests immediately afterwards, and later take cumulate tests after periods of review, usually called finals. Before the subject tests, and especially before the cumulative tests, students have and opportunity to study. Thus, the test measures in part a student's ability to hold information over a short period of time. The test also measures in part the student's ability to "cram."

This, however, is not the purpose of education. The purpose of educating a child is to give him or her knowledge that he or she can use for the rest of his or her life. What matters here is the long-term retention of knowledge, not the short-term retention (or ability to "cram"). Therefore, this testing model is flawed and needs to be replaced.

Unfortunately, because of the necessity of giving out grades, current subject tests must be kept. However, their importance in determining how well a child is doing must be reduced. To measure a student's long-term retention of knowledge, cumulative tests need to be given the next semester or school year. Furthermore, these tests need to be given unannounced to prevent the results from being affected by cramming. Tests given in this matter would give a much more accurate measure of a student's performance.

There are, however, some logistical problems with this plan. For example, how would you test a student who is leaving the school at the end of this year? However, even a partial implementation of this plan would be beneficial. And perhaps a complete reform of the educational system is needed in order to address serious problems in the educational model such as this one.


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Do you think there needs to be reform of the basic educational model?
o Yes, major reform 59%
o Yes, minor reform 16%
o No 7%
o Maybe 7%
o Undecided 1%
o Don't Care 7%

Votes: 54
Results | Other Polls

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The Flaw in the Current Testing Model | 47 comments (46 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
One idea (3.83 / 6) (#1)
by John Milton on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 11:54:09 PM EST

One solution is that if you miss a question on a test, you should be given a question testing the same knowledge on the next test. As it is right now, you don't have to learn something if you learn a majority of the rest. You shouldn't have to repeat the whole test, but you should be given the same things you missed over and over until you remember them.

I'm not saying you should get the same question again if you miss it the first time. Obviously, you could just memorize the question that way. I'm saying you should have a similar question until you finally get the point. The problem with this is that you would have to design tests for each student based on what they missed the last time.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

RE: One Idea (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by qaz2 on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 11:59:48 PM EST

This is a good idea, though it is not striclty relevant to the main topic of the article. Perhaps with increasing computer processing power things like this will become practical.

[ Parent ]
Similar idea (3.66 / 3) (#5)
by John Milton on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:15:13 AM EST

Also, I think that test subjects should not be one time only. Even if I get a question right on a past test, I should be able to answer it again on a test for another section. Teachers should drop questions from previous tests into current ones to test retension.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

[ Parent ]
Exactly (3.33 / 3) (#7)
by qaz2 on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:26:20 AM EST

Exactly. In fact these questions matter more, as they test long term knowledge, instead of how-much-can-I-cram-in-one-night.

[ Parent ]
Repeat Testing (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by sventhatcher on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:46:30 AM EST

There was a junior (HS) exam here that everyone was required to take. Anyone who didn't score beyond a certain threshold on the test had to take that section of the test again.

It's a good idea, but some people will never meet up to the standards due to apathy.

[ Parent ]
Since when is apathy an excuse? (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by vectro on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:33:09 AM EST

So the fact that some people are apathetic means we should make the system easier to accomidate them?

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Apathy (none / 0) (#17)
by sventhatcher on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:55:15 AM EST

I didn't say that.

Although that's what the current system does. Catering to the lowest common denominator which is usually the apaethetic.

The point is that no system of education is really going to be effective unless the students are intrested and willing to learn.

[ Parent ]
Motivation (none / 0) (#32)
by vectro on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:33:24 PM EST

I will strongly agree that motivated students are a prerequesite for good education. But I think it takes more than students who are willing to learn.

I am a CE student at UC Santa Cruz, and it is my perception that the vast majority of my peers in the School of Engineering are there, not because they like computers or technology, but because they think it will pay well. These students will do the minimum required to get a degree, and they will learn something along the way. But at the same time, I think it's a real problem for those of us who are here for the education.

I think that, beyond giving students a motivation to learn, we as a society need to develop more of a love of learning.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Dear Journal, (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by SpaceHamster on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:43:00 AM EST

  • April 15th 1996: Chemistry quiz today.. atomic weight of Turbonium is <whatever>. I got it right. Wooohoo.
  • May 3rd 1996: Chemistry test today.. I knew the atomic weight of TB again. Im so smart.
  • June 4th 1996: I finished my chemistry finals! Another question about TB, and I knew it!
  • June 14th 2001: What the fuck is TB?
I could have answered that same question on a hundred tests, and I still wouldn't remember it today..

[ Parent ]
This is done, to some extent ... (3.50 / 4) (#2)
by wfaulk on Thu Jun 14, 2001 at 11:57:11 PM EST

In the much maligned standardized tests. Now, standardized tests are certainly not the best thing invented, but they do satisfy most of the criteria you describe, at least to some extent. They are announced, but this is ameliorated by the fact that the students really don't know what's on them and by the fact that it makes no difference to any grade or matriculation to the student. But these tests are used to make fiscal decisions about schools. So schools that perform poorly get less funds, and it's always in the school's best interest to get more funds. So principals need to make sure teachers make sure their students do well. And since the students have no particular reason to do well, that requires that they actually teach. Obviously, this is the trickle-down approach to schooling, but it does exist.

About those teachers (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by jreilly on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:58:04 AM EST

And since the students have no particular reason to do well, that requires that they actually teach.

Something one of my teachers was fond of saying was that teachers teach, but students have to learn. The simple fact is that no matter how good a teacher is, the students have to want to learn, otherwise nothing is going to happen. Certainly, there are a lot of teachers who aren't capable of teaching well, but for the good teachers it's mostly a function of the class they have. If a kid doesn't want to learn, it's enormously difficult to change that, and you can't blame the teachers for when those kids fail.
Anyway, I do believe standardized tests are good, because they allow colleges to sort through the academic qualifications of applicants in a consistant way, but its unfair to use them as measurements of the teacher. Teachers can only be judged by observing how they interact with their class.

Oooh, shiny...
[ Parent ]

Bad students (none / 0) (#26)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 10:03:41 AM EST

You're right that there are some students who won't learn. But no amount of school or testing reform will solve that.

Also, I wasn't really promoting standardized tests, but pointing out that they meet most of the criteria presented in the article. It's probably more of a warning to watch what you ask for because you might get it.

[ Parent ]

Open book tests (4.60 / 15) (#4)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:06:11 AM EST

Open book tests. Open book tests. Open book tests.

School is not really about learning that π equals 3.141592.... It's about learning how to learn. Of course, there are a number of basic concepts that students need to learn before they can start, such as that 1+1=2 and so forth, but those basic skills should be learned fairly early. Few people complain about early schooling and that basic arithmetic isn't being taught well. (Actually, perhaps they should.)

I doubt that many of us, even the fairly technical minded Kuro5hin-us, could tell you exactly how to solve a definite integral. But I bet that most of us could find out how in a short amount of time. In fact, that's most of how I do my job as a systems administrator. I spend the majority of my day researching how to do things, not repeating them by rote (which I do some of, as well).

I believe that teachers feel that open book tests are too simple, or that it would require too much effort to make them fair. I also believe that the teachers that put enough effort into making a real open book test serve their students well by instilling in them not the facts of the day, but how to discover those facts.

I had never thought of that, but.... (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by John Milton on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:20:52 AM EST

Now that you mention it, you're right. If I sit down to a calculus test, I'll give up on a question if I can't remember the method. I'm no more likely to remember it, because I feel like an idiot. On the other hand, if I had a book in front of me, I'd be able to look it up and learn something.

P.S. You're pi shows up as a square on my browser. Considering what pi is for, I find this mildly ironic.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

[ Parent ]
Pi chacacter (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by delmoi on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:46:02 AM EST

Yeh, the verdana font's pi glyph is decidedly lacking in chacacter.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
End of an education... (none / 0) (#20)
by kyrbe on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 05:56:35 AM EST

...so to speak. I became so disgruntled and fed up with my software engineering degree for just this reason. It didn't teach me anything, just required me to remember a mass of stuff and reproduce it during assessed practicals or exams.

I found 10% of it useful and still use that now, but that was about developing yourself and expanding your own skills, along with ideas and information to support that. As a whole it in no way reflected how I work, or for that matter the majority of people I had worked with in IT. We constantly refer to texts, papers, man pages, previous code/setups, own documentation and each other. I never remember a specific solution, but I do remember how to analyse a problem, decide what needs to be done to overcome it and then get the information I need. I can do it quickly and the solution works (mostly!).

The education systems need to equip you with the basic skills, that allow you to survive in life, and then those for continued learning/research. School is just the start of your education.
Equal Rights, Representation, Education and Welfare
[ Parent ]
There is a benefit to memorizing stuff (none / 0) (#38)
by 42 on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:16:57 PM EST

I do not have a degree in CS or CSEng (my degree is in Electronics and Communication Eng). I work in the software industry. I have, several times, been exposed to situations that have strengthened my belief that some amount of memorization is a good thing.

Let me quote an extreme example before giving a more realistic one. If you take the approach that learning first prinicples is more important than memorizing the application of those first principles, then you should be prepared to deal with great inefficiencies. It is possible to derive the multiplication table from first principles, but memorizing the multiplication table for the first few integers is incredibly helpful.

In the same way, if you understand the first principles of traversing a tree, it is possible to derive an algorithm to sort a list by creating a tree and then traversing it. I spent a lot of time trying to crack that problem at work using first principles. After a lot of sweat, I swallowed my pride and walked over to the desk of a colleague who did have a CS degree. It took him all of 2 minutes to regurgitate the algorithm.

Yes, knowing the first principles is incredibly important. But that does not negate the importance of the fast retrieval of information from memory. That is what makes the difference between a good engineer and a good and fast one.

[ Parent ]

Re: Open Book Tests (none / 0) (#29)
by Skeevy on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 11:05:21 AM EST

I believe that most teachers feel that open book tests are far too difficult to create and administer. It takes more effort and creativity to come up with questions that actually test your knowledge of a subject.

I had a professor for particle physics in school who wrote the most challenging and brutal tests. They were open book, no calculators. He didn't care if you got the exact right number (pi squared is 10, e is 2, etc.), but looked at your work and your thought process. He'd also ask questions that had nothing to do with the course, to test your critical thinking skills (how many ping-pong balls can fit in a suitcase?). Oh, and he aimed for the average score to be 50%.

He spent unbelievable amounts of time creating and grading these tests (he didn't relegate the grading to a grad student). I have known few other teachers who were willing to invest that sort of time in their classes, whether in high school or college.

btw, you'd get the ping-pong ball question right if you showed your assumptions for the size of a ping-pong ball, the size of a suitcase, and how densely they pack, then made some guesses as to boundary conditions.

[ Parent ]
Problems with Testing (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by sventhatcher on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:00:23 AM EST

Standardized tests are actually generally over pretty relevent basic things that people should just know. The specifics of which can't really be studied for specifically.

Studying for things like the SAT or ACT can only help you understand general question patterns.

I certainly suspect I could score almost as well on the ACT/SAT today as I did when I took them several years back for the purpose of college admissions. I think that would be true of most people as well, so I'd say the system has not been totally unsucessful in long-term retention.

The problem with "cramming" would largely be in normal classes where the focus largely is on memorizing definitions, dates, names, and other specific facts. The things that are covered on these tests generally serve less of a long-term purpose especially with general education requirements.

The most obvious way to prevent "cramming" is a restructuring of classes/tests to focus more on concepts and essays than on memorization of facts and multiple choice.

I personally have a bad memory for details, and so I have to do more of a cramming type-deal in order to be able to retain the more insignifigant facts for testing purposes. The more central ideas will tend to stick with me though, so I could still answer a large number of essay type questions with varying degrees of success. =)

Essays (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by vectro on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:38:03 AM EST

I think narrative responses are a great thing. My suspicion is that they are not used as much as they could be, because they take so much time to grade. That is unfortunate.

Essays work well for the humanities, but it's much more difficult to write a good essay prompt for a math or CS class. That does not mean that narrative responses are an impossibility, however; Proofs (which IMHO are underemphasized in education in the US in general) can be just as effective for a math class, and for a CS class, it's a necessity to ask for short programming assignments on tests.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Proofs and Such (none / 0) (#18)
by sventhatcher on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:01:19 AM EST

Proofs are a wonderful thing.

They force you to actually understand not only how to work a problem, but why that method works. The only class in HS where I did any proofs was Geometry.

Speaking of teaching to the test. I think teaching to the AP test for Calculus leaves one slightly unprepared for going into higher levels of Calc, because you get taught how to solve specific types of problems rather than the principles behind the problem solving messages.

As far as testing in CS classes..

I think that's a waste of time for the most part. If there is going to be a CS test, I think it should be in front of a computer.

There's something wholly unnatural about writing code on paper. =)

[ Parent ]
Who said anything about paper? (none / 0) (#33)
by vectro on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:37:56 PM EST

I see no reason to require that the test be on paper.

One solution would be to write a custom linux kernel that only allowed network access if you were root; alternatively, where network access was a capability that could be given up under the current capabilities system.

Then you could have a custom net-boot disk with this kernel, and run the test from there.

But also, I think that asking students to write algorithms is reasonable to do on paper, e.g. "Write an algorithm that performs an inorder tree walk on a Binary Search Tree".

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Testing on essays not on facts (none / 0) (#39)
by Nurgled on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:29:41 PM EST

I took a test on a module of my modular A-Level Geography course (English qualification) today and other exams in the past couple of days, so this story addresses something which has been on my mind somewhat.

The geography exam I took today was, I thought, structured very well. There are four questions, each worth 25 marks. Two of these questions are printed in bold and have a star character printed next to the number. You are required to select two questions to answer, one of which is a starred question.

These questions are then broken into two pieces. The first piece will be a selection of questions based on some information provided in a resource booklet provided with the examination paper, which will in some form require interpretation and application to concepts taught in the course. The second piece will ask a broader question relating to the topic of the first question, but require references to "named locations from your studies."

For example, in today's paper was a question whose first part was a two-part question and whose second part was a single question. I can't be bothered to create nested ordered lists, so this will have to suffice... (these are paraphrased as I no longer have a copy)

  • Study Figure 2. [fig2 is a map of Liverpool with shaded areas showing the level of deprivation in each area] Describe and suggest reasons for the trends shown on the map.
  • Outline a fieldwork strategy for measuring deprivation within an urban area. Identify any primary and secondary data you would require.
  • With reference to a named large urban area from your studies, describe how the problem of social deprivation is being tackled.

I felt that this is a great way to mix recall-based testing and 'objective' testing (for want of a better word).

I'm familiar to a certain extent with the US Education System's testing mechanism and I'm aware they differ quite significantly from that in the UK, but I provide this as an example of what I think is the "right way" to do testing.

[ Parent ]
This will not happen... (4.33 / 6) (#13)
by SpaceHamster on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:32:26 AM EST

for a long, long time. I see four reasons the basic education/testing process will remain the same for the forseable future:

  1. All schools (I'm refering to pre-college from here on) would need to switch simultaneously, so as GPAs from one school would not be completely different from another school (Yes, I realize that they already are to an extent, but at least the basic testing methodology is the same). Can you see the entire nation being able to decide on something like that? Forget it.
  2. It would be a massive re-tooling effort, both in creating completely new testing methods and especially in re-educating the teachers themselves. Do you think your average high school history teacher cares to learn some "new fangle" method of teaching and testing? Hell no: "When I was a kid this is how we were taught, and damnit, that's how Im going to teach too!". I think it would meet a *lot* of resistance from the education community itself.
  3. Third, I think US grades would plummet, at least in the short term.
    • Teachers would not be accustom to teaching in this style, see point 2
    • Students would not know how to learn for this kind of testing. Ex: In school, I never took notes. Instead, I paid 100% of my attention to the teacher, while everyone else around me scribbled madly in their notebooks. By the end of the class I walked away with a clear understanding of the subject; I had listened to and absorbed the material. Everyone else, though, was so busy taking notes, that they never listened to the teacher and therefore didn't "get it". Obviously if you switch to a long term testing situation, you're ability to memorize facts decreases, so tests would need to focus largely on concepts instead of fact regurgitation. The kind of students that I remember from high school were ill equiped for that kind of learning.
  4. Students would also not like it because massive studying efforts would not be as effective as today. I did very well in school (3.5-3.8 gpa) with almost no effort (see earlier point), so it irked me that kids of fairly average intelligence could simply spend 4 hours a night studying and then regurgitate on tests and do very well. Allow me to quote from my Demotivator Calendar (June): "When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do." Tests that took the long view, as was suggested, would by neccesity be focused more on essays, critical thinking, etc., which is a measure of understanding and comprehension, not memorization.
So in short,
1. Public wouldn't agree on a new testing method
2. Establishment would be opposed
3. Negative sentiment from public if grades dropped
4. I doubt students would like it.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

cramming vs. studying (none / 0) (#30)
by garlic on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 11:08:51 AM EST

I agree that cramming is bad, but I'm not convinced that studying is bad.

I see the distiction as this:
      Cramming is trying to jam facts into your head so you remember them for the test tommorow.
      Studying is reviewing the material to make sure you understand it.

an example. In college to study for physics tests I would take the homework or quizes that we had done previous to that test and redo them. I'd pick representative homework problems if there were a lot. I had the answers to both so after I did the problem I could look at the answer and see how I did.

If instead I was cramming for the test, I would try to memorize the theorems or the problems exactly.

So is this studying what you were referring to as bad, or do you mean what I call cramming?

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

Cramming (none / 0) (#40)
by SpaceHamster on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:35:05 PM EST

So is this studying what you were referring to as bad, or do you mean what I call cramming?

Cramming. Studying as you defined it is a Good Thing, only problem is that I don't think many kids know how to study that way. So many times in <insert math, science subject here>, my friends would all come up to me a day before the test and ask, "How do I do problem x?". I would say, "Oh, its in section 4." Turns out they had already read section 4 eight times, had every equation memorized, but still didn't have the foggiest clue what it was about. What they really needed was for someone to explain it to them since they lacked the studying skills to learn it on their own.

Incidently, this is a phenomina (I want browser spell check damnit) I see a LOT in IT. Somebody asks, "What's the function call to flip switch z on widget x?" The response, "Not sure, go look it up," is not valid, since they don't seem to know how to look it up.

Sorry for venting a bit, this is a topic I get very irritated by.

[ Parent ]
Do we need grades? (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by infraoctarine on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:43:25 AM EST

gaz2 writes: Unfortunately, because of the necessity of giving out grades, current subject tests must be kept.

In light of this statement, I would like to pose a new question: Do we really need grades?

I don't have a position on this yet, but it has been the subject of heated debate in Sweden lately. I can see two important uses for testing: as a tool to compare the quality of schools (to make sure the standard of education is "good" in all schools) and as an indication of which students don't benefit from their education and need additional help (or to give students feedback on what they need to work on). But neither of these uses require individual grades.

The opponents of a grading system have some valid points. It makes students compete for grades instead of focusing on learning and gets in the way of the kid's natural curiosity. In addition, it will make the low-performing students lose their self-esteem, give up, and perform even worse.

Admission to college could be solely based on admission tests and interviews. College level grades are another question, but the benefits of having other grades than "pass" or "fail" is not clear here either. Employers usually rely mostly on their own interviews, or could administer their own tests if they like.

As I said, I haven't made up my mind about this issue, but I think some of the arguments against grades are valid, and that it is a suggestion worth considering.

How do you matriculate? (none / 0) (#35)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:45:06 PM EST

I don't know if it works this way in Sweden currently, but in the US, in order to go to the next grade, you must have largely passing final grades. If there are no grades, how do we determine if the student needs to repeat? Is there any answer to this question in the debate you mention? And if there are no grades, how do you determine which students need help and which are doing fine?

[ Parent ]
How you matriculate (none / 0) (#45)
by infraoctarine on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 10:14:26 PM EST

The current system works like this: "grade school" is 9 years, but you only get grades the last 2 years. You must have a passing grade in "key subjects" in order to continue to High School. This would, as I understand it, be replaced by a more general "you are good enough for high school" decision by the teachers. In high school you get grades. College admission is usually based on high school grades, or a standardized test (like the SAT in the US). In the future, specialized admission tests and interviews could replace high school grades as admission material.

In grade school, the teachers meet with the parents and student twice a year to talk about how things are progressing. In some cases, the teacher will recommend repeating a year (I don't know what happens if the parents don't like the idea). In high school, you get grades for each course, much like in a university. If you fail, you must repeat until you pass if you want a complete diploma. With a grade-free high school, grades would be supplanted by student/teacher meetings, and possibly written narrative evaluation.

So, even without grades, you would have tests and other forms of evaluation. The teacher/student meetings serve as feedback to the student instead of grades (a chat will probably give the student more information than a number or letter anyway). These talks are already used, which is why some people think the grades are superfluous.

Of course, not everyone agrees. There are also many people who think grades should be passed out much earlier than during the 8th year.

(Disclaimer: I might have some details wrong since I have not followed the debate too carefully, but at least these are the general principles)

[ Parent ]

Optional grades (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by vectro on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:49:32 PM EST

Here at UC Santa Cruz, up until this year, grades were completely optional. You could take as many classes as you liked pass/fail (some you could only take pass/fail), and if at the end you had taken 2/3 of your credits for a grade, you were assigned a GPA. Otherwise, you weren't.

Of course, students also recieve a narrative evaluation in every class, regardless of whether they have taken a grade. Unfortunately, sometimes I have gotten evaluations like "Students performance was excellent". Real informative.

Originally, UCSC only had evaluations, but optional grades were provided because some students had difficulty applying to graduate schools without the grades. Ironically, some high school students without GPAs were put in the some boat when applying to UCSC!

Lately, there's been a movement to make our grading system more traditional. As I mentionned, this year grades became mandatory - all new students after fall 2001 must take grades in 3/4 of their classes to graduate. Next on the chopping block is narrative evaluations, but those probably won't be eliminated for another couple years.

Maybe it's a case of preferring the thing you're first exposed to, but I like the system of optional grades and mandatory evaluations. I think it's a shame it's being done away with.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Sounds like you have made up your mind: (none / 0) (#44)
by Canimal on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 09:35:34 PM EST

You just haven't declared your new allegiance yet. :)

I don't think grades are a very good way to compare schools, they are too easy to fudge, and even if they are not fudged, they are not really comparable. I think most of us have had classes that were easy to ace but left us feeling cheated because we learned nothing. Standardized tests are better for comparisons, though these are not to my personal taste either.

In theory grades could be used to help students that were having problems, highlight trouble areas, etc. In practice I don't think this happens very much. Good grades are rewards, bad grades are punishments. If you get a D or F it is because you didn't try, or you are just dumb. In my experience teachers will typically hand out D's and F's to the same kid, one after another, without blinking an eye.

I think your points against grading are spot on.

I think it is interesting and neat that you are actually having a public debate about grades in Sweden. Here in the States, I think most folks would abolish the wearing of pants in school before they would abolish grades. Good luck.


[ Parent ]
You're right on the spot (none / 0) (#46)
by infraoctarine on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 10:28:04 PM EST

Sounds like you have made up your mind: You just haven't declared your new allegiance yet. :)

I guess. It is just that I'm indecisive by nature :)

The problems you state are, by and large, the ones that have been put forth in this debate. That, and the problem with students optimizing their studies for grades, not for long-term useful knowledge.

[ Parent ]

This already happens (4.00 / 3) (#21)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 07:57:10 AM EST

"To measure a student's long-term retention of knowledge, cumulative tests need to be given the next semester or school year."

This already happens. When you take Algebra II, it implicitly tests your acquisition of Algebra I. Same for other cumulative areas of study (all the maths and sciences, languages, and to some extent history/geography, etc). Furthermore, the actual tests you are given in Algebra II through testing Algebra II concepts ALSO test Algebra I concepts.

Anyway I'm deeply suspicious of any educational reform that isn't based on attitude reform. You can use all the technology and "accountability" in the world and give standardized tests until you are blue in the face, but if the student doesn't want to learn you won't get anywhere.

What needs to happen is to get children interested in learning. That doesn't mean dumb it down and make it look like MTV. It means quit glorifying ignorance, stupidity and pseudo-science. Lose the anti-intellectual attitude and your children will be intellectuals.

Play 囲碁
Eh? (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 08:31:35 AM EST

"To measure a student's long-term retention of knowledge, cumulative tests need to be given the next semester or school year."

This already happens. When you take Algebra II, it implicitly tests your acquisition of Algebra I. Same for other cumulative areas of study (all the maths and sciences, languages, and to some extent history/geography, etc).
I've seen a lot of people fail because they don't remember the more basic concepts. They don't fail the first course, though, no - they fail the second - and have to retake it. How stupid is that?

Another issue is that most people who fail physics, chemistry and math, I find, have never been taught how to create formulas for themselves. I had to teach myself ('cause the school didn't teach it.) It should be taught in math, it should be taught explicitly.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
As Another Example... (none / 0) (#47)
by Matrix on Sat Jun 16, 2001 at 07:32:01 AM EST

Look at freshman college/university calculus. The course content isn't all that complicated, when you look at it. (Although I'm perfectly aware of the complexities later introduced, I'm talking about the stuff presented to first-year students) The number of people who fail this course is high - as bad as, if not worse than, freshman physics. (My freshman physics class had an average of around 55% on the first test - which was nothing more than basic movement, stuff one should learn in grade 11 in high school)

Its not because the information's not presented well in class - although I don't doubt that some people fail or don't do well because of bad professors. Often it seems to be a combination of two things. In some cases, they weren't taught/didn't learn the basics well enough to be able to generalize and apply some of their existing knowledge to new concepts in calculus. In others, they just haven't been taught the basics well enough at all. (I've had several people look at me blankly when told: "You can't do that, because you might be dividing by zero.")

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

Reminds me of highschool (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 08:19:56 AM EST

I was terribly displeased with all of this while I was going through highschool, so I stopped studying.

I made it through okay. Sure, I may have gotten worse grades than I would have otherwise, but at least I know that I got a realistic grade - one that I should be able to reproduce today, even.

Along with this, I stopped taking notes, and focussed on what was really going on. I do believe that I took things in much better by allowing myself to pay attention to the content, instead of having to focus on writing it all down.

farq will not be coming back
Cheats! (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by priestess on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 09:15:19 AM EST

I was never very good at revision/cramming, too lazy basically. It seemed easier to pretend to revise than to actually do it. Besides, I knew most of the stuff already, we'd done it in class. I know most of the students would have been massively against the idea of unannounced testing but it would have suited me fine.

I never did the revision, seems to me that those who did were cheating, they had an unfair advantage over me.

Of course, I still did better than most of the cramming swots anyway. I don't get what's so hard about remembering things you were taught in class over the last year or so. I suspect those who don't understand in the first place are the only one's who revision actually helps much.


My Mobile Phone Comic-books business
Revision (none / 0) (#25)
by dgwatson on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 09:56:19 AM EST

Just so other people aren't confused by this comment like I was:

The proper term is 'review' or 'reviewing', not 'revision' - revision is when you revise (i.e. edit/update) soemthing.

[ Parent ]
Hmmm (none / 0) (#27)
by amanset on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 10:06:23 AM EST

This is not a flame, I am just asking out of interest. Are you from the US? I ask as I am from the UK and we always use the term "revision" to mean studying for exams. "Reviewing" is never, ever used. Hence, by common usage, "revision" has become the proper term. You can check this by going to www.amazon.co.uk, searching for "revise" and seeing how many study guides you end up with.

Maybe this is another of those US English to British English clashes.

[ Parent ]

Silly Brits ;) (none / 0) (#28)
by dgwatson on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 11:03:58 AM EST

Yep, I'm from the US, and I've never heard the term 'revision' used in the way you did...

[ Parent ]
Ditto. [nt] (none / 0) (#37)
by nstenz on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:56:59 PM EST

[ Parent ]
cramming??? (2.00 / 1) (#31)
by tforce76 on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 11:40:57 AM EST

while i was in school, from 1st through 12th grade, i never had to cram for any standardized test. the testing was announced to the students beforehand, but my teachers never told me to study for them.

i can't agree that there is anything wrong with the system because it already works the way gaz2 proposes. that is, it measures long-term retention of knowledge.

Cramming (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by jfuller on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:39:34 PM EST

Thus, the test measures in part a student's ability to hold information over a short period of time. The test also measures in part the student's ability to "cram."

This, however, is not the purpose of education. The purpose of educating a child is to give him or her knowledge that he or she can use for the rest of his or her life.

This just isn't true. The ability to cram in new material and get up to speed quickly is extremely useful in any demanding occupation. E.g., pick up a Solaris cert or an MCSE in a few months, learn a new programming language in a couple of weeks, learn a foreign language by total immersion just before going overseas. The only difference between this and cramming in school is that after cramming in the real world you get to put your newly crammed-in, short-term-memory knowledge to practical use -- and by using it you transfer it into long-term memory.

Of course you will lose crammed-in knowledge if you don't use it. However, I can't imagine anyone stuffing his head with, say, conversational Japanese twelve hours a day for a month if he doesn't plan on beginning to use it right away. The experience of having learned to cram in school -- just the bare knowledge that it can be done, because you've done it -- is one of the most potent weapons in anyone's mental armamentarium.

Certifications (none / 0) (#41)
by SpaceHamster on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:58:50 PM EST

The ability to cram in new material and get up to speed quickly is extremely useful in any demanding occupation. E.g., pick up a Solaris cert or an MCSE in a few months

The same problem with tests in the educational system applies to certification tests: they don't measure comprehension or understanding, just ability to memorize. Why do you think there are 300,000+ MCSEs out there? I've met MSCEs out there that CANNOT INSTALL NT! I actually watched someone that was paid twice my salary sit there, scratching his head at how to make boot floppies. Although its a bit harder, I've also met MCSDs that can't program, which is irritating because it devalues my own certification. So while we're revamping education, lets revamp tech certs as well.

P.S. I've only taken MS exams, but I understand that the higher level Cisco stuff (CCIE) actually puts you in a lab. Is this the case with other (read: *nix, netware) certifications?

[ Parent ]
Re: Cramming (none / 0) (#42)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 04:17:50 PM EST

The ability to cram in new material and get up to speed quickly is extremely useful in any demanding occupation.
While this is true, it's not the same thing as cramming. As a systems administrator, I need to come up to speed on new technologies very quickly, but I don't and can't do that by reading a book and trying to memorize it by rote, which is what cramming generally is intended to mean. If I have to learn, for example, how to install Solaris, I don't sit down and read the entire Solaris Installation manual, try to memorize all of it, and then go to install Solaris, hoping that I remember everything that I read. I go to the computer with a copy of the manual and start at Chapter 1. Of course, it's useful to read through it first to get the idea of how it's supposed to work, but not to know everything that might happen. In addition, in the real world, manuals often are horribly incomplete, when they exist at all, and even if you were to memorize the entire thing, you might still not have enough education to complete the process.

In other words, there are always basic rules that will have to be learned by rote in order to start, but that's hardly trying to consume the entirety of a subject in a day.

[ Parent ]

Thinking, not Remembering (none / 0) (#43)
by l0gichunt3r on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 04:37:59 PM EST

The ability to remember information, long term or short term, pales in comparison with actually using your brain to do things such as critical thinking.

I can get a computer to remember data for me. But I cannot get a computer to think for me, or solve certain logic problems for me.

Going back to the classic MCSE debate, retaining a bunch of information is no substitute for being able to manipulate given material to create solutions.

Yes, remembering things is important and the more we remember the quicker the process can be. But retention is going to be limited to what someone else teaches you.

We should encourage critical thinking and problem solving over memory retention. (Here's where I tie it all in) Standardized tests are much more capable of this than recursive tests.

On a side note, colleges are left with very little options when it comes to choosing criteria for admitting students. I know of plenty of examples of students that graduated from their school with a 4.0 GPA and scored a 13 on the ACT (for the SAT folks a 13 on the ACT is attainable if you only get your name right). Why? Because they were dumb as a grape, but their school was in a high poverty area and attaining a good grade was simply a matter of showing up for class. So Colleges have to rely on something other than high school GPA's.

The Flaw in the Current Testing Model | 47 comments (46 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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