As I was heading to work on Friday I heard a BBC news story regarding new proposals for “testing” of 4 year old children at the start of their school experience. This immediately had me asking about the differences between assessment and testing. I am not sure there is a difference however I am quite happy to listen to anyone who is able to explain this.
For me, independent of the age of students, one of the first things I need to do is to “test” or assess them. I need to find out a little about them, about the things they like, about the things they are good at and the areas within which they still need to develop. I have worked in secondary education, further education and higher education and across each stage the first thing I have done with new students is to assess or test them in order to help in planning their learning experience.
So this led me to ask why the story was so new worthy. My first assumption was that it related to the differing perspectives and definitions for the term of “assessment” and “testing”. It could be that some see the two terms as meaning the same thing, as I do, while others see each term as meaning something different. This differing perspective leads to the debate around whether the proposal in question is a good or bad thing and therefore to a news worthy story.
Upon thinking on it further and accepting the commonality of the two terms I came to think that it is not what the two words mean or “are” which is the issue but the reason why we undertake them. In the case of my testing at the start of working with new students, this is done as I know the benefit such testing will have in terms of providing the best learning experience possible. It is done because good teaching demands it be done. In the case of the news story they are discussing mandated testing. The reason for mandating such testing may be linked to the reasoning I used in deciding to test however the fact it is mandated detracts for this.
The other issue is what is done with the results. In my example the data is solely for me and to inform learning. There needn’t be a score or a rubric attached. In the case of mandated data collection those mandating it want the data which therefore required quantifiable and comparable scores and grades or at least we might assume this is the case.
Maybe we need to trust teachers more rather than mandating what must be done as the act of mandating something changes the activity being mandated!