Can A Test Measure This?


Can A Test Measure This? Personality Qualities Not Measured By Tests

by Terry Heick

Woe to the standardized test, bastard child of ed reform and a dated and industrialized approach learning. Damning evidence of the failure of our collective imagination to design ways to help children come to understand what’s worth understanding.

Who knew a vertical sliver of paper, stamped with little bubbles and otherwise boringly plain and harmless, could become (let’s continue to mix our metaphors) the flash point of school improvement debates worldwide? It’s just a test, and the world itself runs on the dag burn things. Medical tests, vacuum tests for cars, vision tests for your eyes, health department tests for restaurants, test flights, athletic competitions, bar examinations–stress tests on Bar Rescue! They’re ubiquitous! So why the scorn for testing children? How else will we know if they’re learning?

One way to consider improving here might be to wonder what might happen if we’d look at these tests as the measure of success for schools and not teachers and students? A teacher is one person–their performance is often as much as a product of a system as a student’s. Honestly, even that’d give us a bunch of useless ‘data.’ None of it even begins to get at the idea of personalized learning, human potential, the ability to ask the right question at the right time, etc. The same kind of test imposed on a slightly more macro scale wouldn’t innovate anything.

So, absent of a better idea, we give the tests to students. That a test–at least the standardized tests we give in schools today–represents only a narrow snapshot of a child’s abilities isn’t a new proposition. That they promote reductive views of intelligence, mislead families and communities, and are often punitive for teachers and students alike also isn’t new, which is where this image by @sylviaduckworth pitches its tent. (I’m on a roll mixing the daylights out of these metaphors–see, I did it again.)

The message within the image is, of course, true. Can a test measure a sense of wonder? Humility? Enthusiasm? Creative thinking? Curiosity? Empathy? Reliability? Leadership? The answer is no–not K-12 standardized tests that are based on some set of standards themselves based on something in or around the Common Core’s neck of the woods. We could design a test that measures humility, but that probably wouldn’t get us very far–at least not the types of tests that we believe need to be administered on the same day in the same way to 800 different students. Same with enthusiasm–we could create an enthusiasm assessment tool, but that feels absurd, right? And ironic?

Today’s tests, as they’re designed, administered, and reported today–trains us to scrutinize those responsible for the test-takers performance. In this case, we celebrate or close the schools and applaud or fire the teachers (which Diane Ravitch has pointed out, makes as much sense as firing the police force when crime increases).

If we insist on tests (which we will for the foreseeable future until something happens to disrupt this madness), what about a ‘test’ for learning models and available resources mixed in with the ‘starting points’ for those doing the learning?

What if instead of saying “this demographic got this percentage of these questions based on these standards in this content area,” we instead said “welp, mixing direct instruction and project-based learning was X effective for student 000001 whose performance changed Y %, Z effective for student 000002 whose performance changed W %, and so on? That’s a dumb idea, too, but so is what we’re doing now.

Or–oooh, here’s an idea!–what about testing the effectiveness of a given set of academic standards and subsequent curriculum variants for how well they prepare young minds to live well? Be happy? Take care of things they love? Innovate? Think critically? Fix the messes we’ve spent generations creating?

What would that test look like if we did? Absent of a test like that, could we begin by looking at drug addiction rates? Poverty? Debt? Divorce rates? Hate crimes? Prison incarceration patterns? Obesity? Mental health?

If school isn’t addressing these kinds of issues, what are we doing here?

Can A Test Measure This? Personality Qualities Not Measured By Tests