Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Exams as Circumstantial Evidence

While our high school students prepare for final exams, I'm left to ponder how these snapshots came to yield so much weight.

In a discussion with colleagues earlier today, I suggested that the written test is best considered as 'circumstantial evidence' of student learning. More often than not, and exam indicates little more than which student studied, and to what degree they paid attention to the right material.

Rather than rely on the information provided on a written test, I await the day that teachers rely on anecdotal evidence as the best measure of student learning. Certainly an educator's first-hand observations taken in documentation of rich performance tasks, or culminating projects would be more telling than first draft handwritten exam responses. Teacher-student discussions in the midst of such experiences allow all types of learners to 'show what they know'.

It was back in April when members of the blogosphere publicly debated in response to Will Richardson's query "When Are We Going to Stop Giving Kids Tests That They Can Cheat On?" The shortest blog post I've read this year, generated great discussion on this topic.

As experts in learning, it is teachers themselves who need to rally against the traditional exam. While it will take a special teacher to even open this conversation in a staff room, the discussion following Will's post is a terrific place to begin the dialogue.

For a humourous example of how I survived oral exams in university, you might be interested in re-visiting the "Tale of the Tell-tale Toes" episode of the Teacher 2.0 podcast.
New today: Choice Matters.

Photo Credit: ccarlstead; beatsrhymesnlife