EDITORIAL: Standardised testing

Congratulations are in order for all the students who sat and passed the recently conducted Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE). Both sets of exams are extremely tough, and success at this level is to be admired and lauded.  Not everyone handles the pressures of these exams well, so to those who made the attempt and tried their best, but did not achieve the desired results, we would like to also extend congratulations.  The key to education it to try your best, and to be honest with yourself that you did.

We believe in the benefits of education and we also believe that top performers must be acknowledged for their accomplishments. They are role models for their peers and those who follow.  Highlighting their successes will only breed additional success stories.  This year, the Most Outstanding School Student for CSEC is Keondre Herbert of St. Joseph’s Academy.  Keondre sat and passed a remarkable 20 Subjects.  More remarkable is the fact that he achieved 20 Grade I’s. The effort to pull off such an achievement is hard to imagine.  With eight to 10 subjects being considered by many to be the ‘norm,’ 20 subjects is extraordinary.   

Keondre is joined by Shamara Yearwood of the Antigua State College who took home the title of the Most Outstanding Student for CAPE.  Shamara sat and passed 6 Units in 2018, adding to the 5 Units she already took in 2017.  She achieved all Grade I’s for her exceptional effort and for that she deserves all the accolades given to her.  Both Keondre and Shamara have done their parents, family and friends proud, so we say a hearty “well done” to both. You  have also made Antigua and Barbuda proud.

At this point, you are probably expecting our usual rant on the state of education and the fact that the results could be better but we thought that it is time to broaden the discussion to include the topic of standardised testing.  Before we continue, we need to make it clear that we are not against standardised testing because we are practical realists.  There will always be a need for a comparative testing method and until someone can convince those in the global education system that there is a better way, standardised testing is here to stay.  

That said, there are flaws to this type of testing that cause inaccurate results and leave children behind.  Standardised tests, in theory, attempt to take a comparative approach to understanding the depth of each student’s understanding of a topic so that varying levels of performance can be identified and students can be treated according to their ability.  That comparative approach also allows “selection” based on performance relative to peers. The most relatable instance is schools’ acceptance standards.  Top schools select top students and it is thought that the only way to efficiently analyse students’ performances is through a standardised testing process.

In theory, this may work, but like most things, the reality is much different.  In most cases, the resources of the education systems are not sufficient enough to effectively deal with students who have been identified as either high performers or struggling with the curriculum.  Average and above are pushed ahead and poor performers are held back or sometimes, just ignored. 

Standardised tests are stressful and as such, can lead to results that do not accurately represent a student’s grasp of what was taught.  That pressure can create a domino effect as it can affect a student’s confidence and that of his or her teacher. We are sure that almost every reader can remember a moment when they went blank in a test; likely because of the stress of test preparation and the expectations for great results.  It is not that you did not know the material, you just did not know it at that particular time. 

Another major downside to standardised testing is, it affects how subjects are taught.  Instead of teaching the topic, the curriculum is tweaked towards passing the test. Students are deprived of a deeper understanding of topics as schools and teachers focus on test preparation.  This sometimes ties the hands of teachers and deprives the students of the ability to express creativity. It ends up limiting the scope of teaching, learning and ultimately success.

Standardised testing also ignores growth and external factors.  It is an evaluation without context and can actually be a disservice to the students and their teachers because it is a single evaluation at a moment in time.   There are ways to improve standardised tests and they are obvious.  One of the top recommendations is to design and use tests that provide feedback.  That way, external facts can be considered.  It is more complex to administer and process, but it will capture information that is pertinent to a student’s grade.  Something as simple as “I was not taught this!” allows the system to identify gaps in various curriculum or teaching methods.  There are many others, but this is not intended to be a dissertation on the topic. 

The youth and education are the keys to our future but yet still, we are mired in the ways of the past.  It is time that we give new methods a chance or at the very least, modify the standardised way of doing things so that they better serve the purposes for which they are intended.

We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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