Reflection on Sal Khan's One World Schoolhouse

It seems only fitting that as I get ready to hand out progress reports to my students this week, I read through a chapter titled Tests and Testing in Sal Khan's book One World Schoolhouse.  In this chapter, Khan suggests that educators need to question what level of learning is demonstrated through tests and what do test marks truly indicate about a student.  These are interesting concepts considering my last post, Evaluation, Reporting and Technology I suggested that an assigned mark ends the learning process for a student.  Testing, according to Khan, is a snapshot of the student's learning and for a variety of reasons they do not truly represent the student's potential.

Khan questions the validity of tests as they do not give the full picture of the student's learning.  For example, he wonders howl long the learning is retained after a test.  While reading this, I reflected on how often I remind students that they need to carry skills learned earlier in the year forward and apply them to current work.  The students seem to miss the idea of connecting what they have learned to real life applications.  Khan also wonders if the tests actually show what is important.  Tests created by teachers differ and as a result what each finds to be an important concept may differ so student knowledge may differ.  A final thought is that tests isolate subjects and that learning is not connected to larger concepts.  As a result, Khan feels that testing filters out the creative thinkers who must focus on answer questions a certain way in order to meet the teacher's requirements.  If they student does not meet the teacher's expectations then the student will receive a poor mark.

This leads to Khan's to further questions about tests, how valid are marks and what is an acceptable grade? First off, Khan questions what correct and incorrect answers tell the teacher.  A correct answer may be a result of deep understanding, a result of rote memorization or a lucky guess.  An incorrect answer may be a result of lack of understanding, missed lessons or careless mistakes.  The teacher must assume that when a correct answer is given in shows an understanding of content while errors means a lack of understanding.  What we need to remember as educators is that students are being given greater opportunity to show their learning in a number of ways.  Students can display knowledge through displays, pictures, models, use of technology. As educators we need to give students choice on how to express their learning and knowledge.

A final  interesting concept presented by Khan is what is an acceptable mark.  I know that when I was going to school I would be happy with 75% mark.  Khan flips this acceptable mark by stating that the mark indicates that the student is missing 25% of knowledge needed to be successful in this area.  How can a student possible move forward in their learn when they are missing a quarter of some concept that they will need to build upon in the future?  Khan feels that students should go back to review and then be retested until they gain all the knowledge that is needed to move forward.  Khan even questions a student who receives 95%; this means that the student has missed 5% of some key learning.  Again the foundation for future learning is not fully there.  Is it realistic to expect that every student reaches the mark of 100% on each test before they can move on?   At what point does a self paced classroom not meet the needs of the student?

A final thought, grades often define a student or it gives the student a label.  With labels, expectations and limitations are often attached.  How do we assess and evaluate students without giving grades?  Does the mark of an A truly mean that the student has a deep understanding of the subject or have they just mastered test writing?

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