What Was the Hardest Test You Ever Took?

Are you smarter than a sixth grader? Or a goldfish? What is the point of standardized testing?


“Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  

- Albert Einstein

The problem, as I see it, with standardized testing is that it asks very little and it rarely tests one's knowledge, creativity, or even learning.

It asks, “Can you pick the best answer from this list?”

It asks, “Can you solve this quickly even if you read slowly or process information differently?”

I can still remember the results of a standardized test I took in junior high school in which I scored abysmally low in spelling.  I can picture the bar graph still – hills of accomplishment and then a valley, or rather a Marianas Trench of spelling.  What did that mean?  Just that I was the goldfish of spelling.  

What happens for kids when they get a grade, an A or a D?  When the grade is the product, then the end of the line is the grade -- learning is concluded and the grade is the result.  When assessments are ongoing, meaningful, and rich, then learning is the goal, and learning never concludes.  Teachers who assess through observations, through portfolios, through rubrics and yes even through exams, help students achieve more than a static grade.  Those teachers see themselves as educators – mentors who help students achieve something that lasts longer and has more meaning than an A.

My son went to a progressive elementary school – project-based, thoughtful, and creative, in the same mold as the Touchstone Community School here in Grafton, where I am the Head of School.  At his school, and at Touchstone, we do not use standardized tests to assess learning or knowledge.  To this day, my son will tell you that the hardest “test” he ever took was in his sixth grade class at that progressive school.

They were studying bridges – beam, truss, arch, and suspension.  They learned about forces and tension by reading books, by walking and measuring bridges over the Charles River, and by building models of each type of bridge and testing their strengths and attributes.  Try building a suspension bridge across two chairs using paper and string, then distribute washers along its length to add downward forces, and then turn on a large fan.  You’ll soon come to very clear conclusions about what a suspension bridge can do! 

What was the test?  Here you try it:

Tell me everything you know about suspension bridges.  You may choose to draw pictures to illustrate your points. 

 Good luck.

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