Don't you just love it when someone gets up to a microphone to determine if it is working? "Testing….1, 2, 3…" Why don't people say, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," or "Honor your father and your mother," or "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"? All kidding aside, I believe our culture places the wrong emphasis on testing – as if one test, or a series of them, can determine competence.
What are tests, in the modern academic sense? They are ways of measuring whether or not someone has grasped the material studied. But do they indicate whether or not the person who can give the correct answer will apply that correct answer when called upon to do so? Most definitely not. Biblically, a test is an opportunity to see if one's profession matches one's confession. Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Levite and the priest would have been able to give the correct answer regarding whether a person injured on the side of the road should be helped. But, their actions betrayed their actual beliefs and their application of them.
I do not deplore using tests to measure material grasped. I'm merely suggesting that there are other means of determining (much better than written tests) how much of what you've taught has been learned. For example, discussion and pertinent exploratory questions often reveal much more than a series of True/False or multiple choice responses. Although essay writing is a valuable skill and one that should be mastered, that particular method of demonstrating understanding has more to do with practicality (one teacher can't talk at length with 20 students) than being the quintessential measuring stick of understanding.
The other problem with testing is that it reduces learning to a "make it or break it" point in time whereby one gets to the next step (or not) depending on how well the test questions are answered. It gives the test-makers an inordinate amount of power over others, not to mention an almost divine status, in that it says they know the best questions to ask. By isolating all that was learned into a time of testing lasting 1 – 3 hours, a false priority is given to "giving the right answer" when nuance or circumstances could change a response drastically. In short, it makes the test-taker more concerned with proving his knowledge rather than applying his knowledge.
Testing has become so entrenched in modern academic pursuits that it is hard to imagine a time when this method will fall into disuse. However, while preparing students for PSATs, SATs, ACTs, and all the “alphabet” tests, it is vital that those areas which will have most relevance to their everyday lives as adults receive the proper focus and attention. In truth, our children will more likely be called upon to determine the character of a future employer or employee than determining whether or not various triangles are congruent. They will be faced with political promises from aspiring candidates and need to be able to effectively judge the truth or falsity of their claims and premises rather than be able to recite from memory the various parts of a eukaryotic cell.
The testing that ultimately matters involves meeting the challenges of everyday life in such a way that our actions and decisions, as well as those of our children, are obviously and deliberately being premised on the authority and sufficiency of the Holy Word of God.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].