From the Desk of Dr. Brian Bloomfield
Why I Like Testing
January 16, 2015
There is a good deal of noise in the field of education these days surrounding testing, both for and against it. Ever since the introduction of normative testing in the 60s, people have been critical of it, and in many way justifiably so. Then in the 90s we introduced “high-stakes” testing and there began another wave of criticism, and again, much of it not without its justifications. This week your children experienced midyear examinations, so I thought it prudent to write about why we test.
It should be noted that the U.S. is far behind the curve on high-stakes testing. China, Sweden, and Europe have been engaging in high stakes testing for decades, sometimes centuries, including the famous and dreaded “A-level” examination. Those tests, historically, have determined the route of one’s life. People in the U.S. have argued that the SAT and state assessments such as the MCAS do the same: their cultural biases and growing importance force students into certain tracks from which they never emerge.
I’m glad that we do not track students at The Academy, because they are emerging scholars and people and should not have areas of exploration shut down from them. I do, however, like that we test them. Tests are crucibles: they offer up data on how students perform in extreme conditions. Time is contracted and pre-determined, and one’s best thinking and work sometimes have to give way to one’s appropriate thinking and work. Testing forces us to demonstrate what we can do under set conditions, and that is a helpful lesson. Tests do not tell us who your children are, but they help us to see what they can do in certain circumstances.
In every job I’ve held I’ve had instances where I had to produce under duress. In life itself I’ve experienced the same: drive somewhere in an abbreviated time, help my mother with technology questions over the phone, perform in a sporting event, and even go out on a date. Such instances limit my best effort to what I can produce in the situation. I like that we test alongside many other forms of assessment because it flexes students’ performance muscles in new, different, and important ways.
Dr. Brian Bloomfield
Head of School, Academy at Charlemont