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Life's a Measure

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A person fills out an exam form
Life's a Measure

A great thing about having my own blog is that I can rant a bit from time to time. For the sake of fair warning, that's going to happen a bit here. This week, I'm going to talk about something that causes a great deal of anxiety in the world, in general, but especially in the educational world.

The topic today is tests!

Now, if you are lucky enough to be someone that isn't crippled by test anxiety, you very likely know at least one other person that is, and most likely, more than one. There is a growing effort to remove testing as a form of assessment from schools. From claims of cultural bias to mere ineffectiveness, tests are heralded as a failed tool. This week, we've been studying assessments and we've been challenged to create authentic assessments.

If you haven't heard this terminology before, authentic assessments are projects, assignments, or tests that seek to evaluate students authentically by providing them with opportunities to demonstrate real-world applications of knowledge. The belief is that it's more fair and accurate to measure a person's knowledge by asking them to apply that knowledge, than to simply present the correct knowledge in a sea of incorrect knowledge and ask them to shine a light on the right specimen.

I'm not going to argue that good methods of assessing learning aren't needed. But I am going to challenge one thing about the much hyped "authentic assessment" bandwagon.

A woman stands before a large crowd
Life's a test we're always taking

Just as test anxiety is a real thing, so is performance anxiety. At their core, both stem from an insecurity about being unable to meet expectations, or in simpler terms, failing. Many authentic assessments require students to demonstrate their knowledge in what seems like a more natural and meaningful way. Rather than take a multiple choice test on how to build a website, have a student build a website.

It sounds like a no-brainer, right?

But just as there are students with real, crippling anxieties about the multiple choice tests, there are students with real, crippling anxieties about creating artifacts that become tangible things the world can now criticize. As educators, we need to be careful to avoid looking for one solution for all. The point of authenticity in assessments is supposed to be giving students opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned in meaningful ways. The student that has intense anxiety about creating a website might have a much more meaningful and authentic assessment experience by critically evaluating some popular websites based on what they've learned about building websites. If we only offer one approach, no matter how creative we feel we're being, I'd argue some student somewhere in the mix is not being measured fairly.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Life is a constant measuring and we're all succeeding at some things and failing at others. A successful life for you won't ever be exactly the same as a successful life for me, and vice versa. We're all on our own journeys. The purpose of education is not supposed to be conformity of thought. It's supposed to expand our thoughts and help us explore our ideas fully.

A child looks up pondering something
What are we assessing?

So often, our assessments only measure the degree of indoctrination we've mastered rather than the authentic learning that's been achieved. When a student is indoctrinated, they seek to appease the grader by giving them what they expect. When a student has an authentic learning experience, they seek to appease their own curiosity and wonder. I think until we involve students more by allowing them to take the reigns of their education to design and assess their own successful learning, we haven't begun to reach authentic assessment.


All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix.

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Mike Pasley
Mike Pasley
Nov 07, 2023

Excellent point on indoctrination!

Julie Stoltz
Julie Stoltz
Nov 07, 2023
Replying to


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