The Tyranny of Tests

As alienating, distressing and anxiety laden examinations are normalised, the sensitive mind of an educationist looks into the paradox of assessment and the harms that it causes to our children.

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The schooled mind is conditioned to believe that there is no escape from the ritualization of examinations; and tests—a series of tests—alone can evaluate and quantify what one knows. This tyranny of tests deprives the experience of learning of joy and creativity; instead, tests cause fear and anxiety among children, and corrupt the learning experience. 

Testing children’s learning is an ill-conceived concept, yet so much a part of our notions of education that it is difficult to know where to begin in addressing the problem. And testing is a problem. 

The real problem with testing is that they don’t do anything for children. Children experience fear, anxiety, boredom, and apathy in relation to tests. Tests don’t have anything to do with children’s need.

Tests are tools of politicians, business interests, and education consultants. Tests won’t help failing schools or failing children. If we feel moved to help, why don’t we simply help? Tests won’t do anything for children. They do something to children: turn them into statistics, give them labels, and stress them through the humiliation of imposes failure.

Tests have nothing to do with learning. They have nothing to do with teaching. They have nothing to do with relating to any particular child. They do not foster well-being, creativity and joy.

No one seems to like tests—not parents, not teachers, and certainly not children. Yet the obsession with testing continues to intensify, as if more is better when none is best.

Tests seem to control the educational agendas of a growing number of public schools, reaching into the hearts and minds of more and more children. But tests have one fundamental weakness. They need us to care about them, to believe in them, to fear them.

What happens if we don’t?

What if we say, ‘We won’t take it anymore?’ We won’t take the tests, or more accurately we won’t agree to fund the testing process or put our children in the position of being forced to take the tests. Tests, like monsters under the bed, end when we cease to fear them, when we allow our children to ignore them, when we walk away from an idea whose time is long past. 

Learning is not quantified by the authority of the test, but by the collaboration of those who share a learning environment and who can answer one simple question—a kind of test if you will. What is the difference between a child and a statistic?

In educating the whole child, tests fail.

When the school environment we have created emphasizes tests, a student learns how to move through the testing process, which is what tests test, after all. Tests cannot measure how we integrate all that we know into all that we live. How could we test children for what they know? What they know has so many dimensions to it. Tests cannot test what they know, only what they don’t know.

Tests don’t teach children, people teach children.  


SOURCE: Steven Harrison, The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, Sentient Publications, Boulder, 2002



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