Testing vs. Education?

“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

“And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in,” Obama said. “They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

— President Barak Obama, 28 March 2011: Town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C. [Quote from an AP story on MSNBC]

Quite right!   Tests are not education.  At most, they are tools to help the teacher do a better job, by telling him/her what has been understood and what still needs work.   And education isn’t something that can be delivered to students, like pre-mixed concrete.  It requires the active participation of the learner.  And a lot of effort gets devoted to learning to take tests.

At most?  Did I say “at most”?   Of course, tests fulfil another function: they let universities charge you money to get a degree.  Having good test results makes you a valuable product, and employers will pay money to get the services of such people.  Consequently, such people will be willing to pay money to the universities in exchange for a diploma.  So, testing is also a round-about way of funding universities.

Economically, testing is analogous to the advertisements that appear on web pages.  The adverts (and the testing) provide money to the organization that writes the web pages / does the teaching.  But in both cases, the adverts (tests) really have very little to do with the core function that the reader (student) cares about.  In both cases, the adverts (tests) detract from the main experience, by distracting you from what you really wanted to do, and by wasting your time.    Also, both adverts and tests have grown vastly in importance, and both have become the tail that wags the dog.