According to recent studies, students in Europe do not do as well as they used to and the interest for scientific subjects is low. One example from Finland is that in 2016 there were half an applicant for every degree place in chemistry, physics and mathematics at Åbo Akademi University. This is alarming since Finland’s’ economic future depends on qualified people in science.
Schools must come to term with this problem and think about how they can change their approach to suit modern students. If students are to continue studying science on high-level they need a genuine interest for the subject. In order for students to develop an interest for science they need to gain confidence in their ability to learn by developing strategies for learning.
In my recent posts I have been focusing on what you can do to catch the interest of students but now I am instead going to focus on something that you should perhaps not do; and that is having standard written tests. I strongly believe that students will learn mathematics just as well without standard tests as they would with them, provided that they take responsibility for their learning. I will discuss this more in my next post. I am also curious to find out if not having standard tests could have a positive effect on students’ interest for mathematics.
The reasons why I have started to doubt the idea of standard tests are many and I will only list my main concerns. First of all, if you emphasize the importance of tests too much, students might be ignorant to the lessons since all they have to do is to study the night before the test to get a decent grade, or even start developing strategies for cheating which is becoming more and more of a problem even at high-level studies. This is of course not the way to learn for life and how to develop real skills or interest for a subject.
My second concern is that I have seen students with low interest in mathematics when they start grade seven, but after a short time this has been turned around. Even though they start working better and start to gain confidence in their abilities, knowledge is not something you gain over a short period of time. A test that comes too soon can therefore result in a grade that is not living up to the expectation of the students and this can have a negative effect for their new interest in the subject.
My final and most important point is that students are, in accordance to basically all new curriculums, taught how to solve problems by collaborating, using theory and technology. Suddenly when the students’ progress is to be tested on a standard test, all of this is forbidden. This does not make a lot of sense, does it?
The purpose of testing students is of course to evaluate their progress. There are, however, many other ways of testing students. The tests should be an integrated part of the lesson and offer regular feedback to the students to make them aware of what they have learned and what they have yet to improve to make even greater progress in the future.
This year I will be in charge of three new classes in grade seven and instead of grading these students based on tests, I will grade them entirely on lesson activity. During the lessons the students will be tested, but unlike the standard tests with grades, these tests will be an integrated part of the lesson and focus on developing strategies for problem solving and make students aware of what they are good at and what they can improve.
In this series of “Are tests necessary” I will write about how I will grade students based entirely on lesson activity and document some of the activities we are going to have instead of the standard tests. I will, however, have a standard test in approximately early april to see if these results compares to the results from earlier years. I will also examine the correlation between the grades from the lesson activity and the test scores. Furthermore, I will ask the guardians if they have noticed any difference in students’ attitude towards mathematics and the students will of course also tell us if they feel that they have started working harder during lessons, developed strategies for problem solving and most important of all, if they have gained an interest for learning mathematics.