What? No tests?

Wouldn’t you rather see the smiles and energy that come from learning and exploring the world than the stress of exams? Why would I test when instead I can take the kids out and show them how things work in the real world and see them smile?

Recently I’ve been getting a few questions from people about how I am going to verify that my kids are learning something. What they are asking is – are you going to test them?

Let’s think about what a test is. A test is a way to check if you have memorized certain facts or a process. When children take standardized tests the test is looking for a certain thing: Can you read a paragraph and answer a question this way. Or can you do a math problem. Tests do not measure a creative process or critical thinking. A test is only a good verification tool of a fact or a set process – because if there could be more than one answer, then the test isn’t going to be a standardized tests – that’s what essay exams are for.

Essay exams are a little different then regular tests because you have a blank paper in front of you and get to explain yourself. In an essay exam you can express your answer and the way you got there. While an essay exam has more leeway with allowing you a creative process and critical thinking, it is still an exam and is still looking for a right answer. I have taken many of these in my college and graduate education and know that the exam is still looking for the “right” answer – they just want to see your reasoning to get there.

So what is the goal of a test? To measure something specific. It is a little like Jeopardy in that way – except the exams are more limited than possible Jeopardy questions.

I don’t test my children – nor am I planning to. I don’t think they need exams to show that they have learned something. I don’t need to give them a math test to verify they can add – they will simply be able to add and subtract and since I’m the one doing the work with them, I will know if they can do it. I don’t particularly care if they memorize the historical facts and figures we are learning about. I’d rather they get a general overview of history. The things they like will stick with them.

Am I sure about this? I am sure. I get random questions all the time about how I’m going to be sure they are learning something. They will learn. We interact in lessons. We go to exhibits and watch shows and do experiments and practice work that shows me they are learning. You don’t have to test whether kids are learning – they really are.

Some people seem very frightened by this approach – as if by not testing my children they are going to miss out on various facts. So here’s my question to you guys out there who believe testing is an integral part of a child’s educational experience: Why? What fact did you learn for a test that you truly remember? I know, from experience, that I learned things for tests that I have no idea what they are right now. None. I can tell you that I passed high school and college level courses in chemistry and biology – yet I can’t remember what the parts of a flower are. For the kids in my neighborhood that’s a big test coming up right now. There are lots of kids trying to memorize the parts of a flower. Why? If they are interested, these facts will stick with them and drive them to various classes in continuing education. But for now…why?

Sure, my kids are going to be tested by others. They will learn that tests are something they need to do for other people. But at my house, I’m happier seeing the smiles that come with learning and exploring than the stress of preparing for exams.

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