Saturday, August 13, 2005

Me thinks we doth test too much!

Testing, testing, and more testing. It's all you hear about anymore. It's enough to make you want to break every number 2 pencil at Office Max just to make everyone take a breath. I have never liked tests and don't know many who do. I took them of course. I did well on most of them but I still disliked them.

From the time I was in grade school I remember my teachers saying things like, "pay attention class, this is going to be on the test." At which point, we would all try and remember those points. So what did that teach us? Sure we learned the material that was to be on the test. But it also taught us that everything else was pretty unimportant. Otherwise it would be on the test too! So the really bright kids learned to pay attention at those moments and sleep the rest of the time. The dumb kids just slept through it all.

One of my worst experiences on a test was in my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. I walked in to my entry level Computer Science class which was required for the degree. Before I could even warm the chair, a teaching assistant was handing me a test!

What! There must be some mistake! This is the beginning of the semester! How could there be a test so soon? I sat down and listened to my prof explain that the test was to determine whether we had what it took to succeed in computer science. Confident I did, I clicked my pencil a few times and got to work.

The first question was...
If you had four steaks and a grill that only fit three write an algortihm for how you would cook them so that they would all be well done and hot at the same time.
I can't remember the next one because my test taking skills went up in smoke on the first question. Needless to say, I flunked. Now this isn't surprising. I had no idea about anything computer related. (This was in 1983.) What was surprising however was that I was not allowed to enter the class on the basis of a test about how to cook a steak!

I was not about to give up that easily. I went to my prof's office hours to discuss just exactly he meant by his "no future in computer science" remark that he had written at the top of my test. He took one look at my test and started laughing. I stood there for a moment wondering if I should just forget the whole thing and major in political science. (That seemed to be so popular with all my friends.) But in my usual style, I wasn't going to go down without a fight.

I told him that the test was a colossal waste of his time and not a very accurate predictor of future success in his class. I told him I was actually the best student he could have because I knew nothing and therefore the most teachable. It was all those pompous, know-it-all computer nerds that he should worry about because they may actual make him look bad! I told him that I really wanted to take his class and that I could pass if only given the chance to learn the material FIRST. He must have liked my logic better this time around because he wrote a pass into the class. It was difficult but I did pass with a B minus. I also went on to earn my degree in Computer Science.

What's the point? Current performance on a test does little to determine future success. Determination, hard work, and a desire to learn will never be accurately measured on standardized tests. Let's just teach our children and let them determine their success.

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