What Is the Purpose of Testing?

No Child Left Behind and the Obama's Administration "Race to the Top" brought us many things including high stakes testing or what I call gates examinations -- pass the test and you go through the gate, fail it and you do not. But the question of testing needs to answer the question, what is the purpose of tests?

Tests currently are being used to evaluate students, teachers, and the entire educational system. Because of this emphasis, more standardized tests are being examined and homework and classwork time is being devoted to preparing students to take them while less time is being spent on instruction. In addition, because things like history, art, music and sports are not being tested, they are either being eliminated or seriously being restricted from students' programs. For many students, these subjects are the reasons they come to school. Because of budget restraints, students are now being charged for playing in sports or in the band. This seriously hampers poor students' participation. In places like Atlanta and Philadelphia, PA teachers and school administrators have been accused and are being brought to trial for helping students cheat on the examinations.

Two sociologists, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, conducted a study which showed that 45 percent of college students, after two years of college, "have made no significant gains on a test of critical thinking." This raises the serious question, do tests actually test for things that we want the students to know? Do we simply want students to do well on a test for its own sake? Do we want them to demonstrate some knowledge or skill like knowing how to multiply or do we want them to be able to think critically as well?

Computers are filled with information but lack the ability to process the information into knowledge. Aren't high stakes tests testing information and not knowledge? Schools are teaching students what to think and not how to think. Doesn't the business public want students who know how to think as well as what to think?

We also know that children learn differently. Yet our current tests simply test student's ability to recall, rote memorize and regurgitate. Is this what we want for our children?

My mentor, Dr. Myron Tribus, has stated that the purpose of testing is simply to determine what to do next. Have we seriously considered what to do next?