Can We Have Assessments that are NOT “Pencil and Paper” Tests? PLEASE!

Does this picture look familiar?  Haven’t we all been there?  Testing in one way or another is a part of life.  Only a few months ago, my daughter took the GRE and got the score she needed to get (yes, after preparation). Did we celebrate that completion of that task?  You bet!  Why? Not because it meant she could gain admission to the graduate school program she hoped, but because it was the LAST standardized test she would ever take.  Woo Hoo!

I guess everyone gets through it somehow. Now there are tests in school all the time, so maybe one does get more used to it. I have never been comfortable with the fact that this score supposedly tells you who I am. How can that be? Don’t I have more dimension and depth than to be reduced to a number I received from filling in bubbles or clicking on answers?

Even years ago, somewhere in my imagination, I longed to do something creative to be evaluated. As a musician, one gets evaluated in college regularly. Brutal really. You stand up in front of the entire faculty and do what you do while they write and assess. Somehow the feeling that they wanted you to do well was never there. In retrospect, I am sure they did. Well, actually, not so sure.

I remember taking the tests throughout high school and college and really worrying that I wouldn’t be good enough. It was as if my whole life and value depended on that test, and in some ways, it did. It is really not fair to measure someone by that standard. It may prove that you know what is on the test, but what about other things?  Can it possibly measure your capabilities? Even then, I knew there was no accounting for creativity. It wasn’t of value then. Today it is valuable, at least by media and some talking heads, if not so much by test producers.

So what is the answer?  Can’t we collect a body of evidence from which to draw conclusions of what is learned? Portfolios? Can a student decide how he or she may best want to represent or demonstrate their knowledge? Perhaps a presentation or talk, a video, or even a video game? All students must be able to communicate well. Shouldn’t they have to write about something that takes thought and consideration and not follow a formula as a response to a prompt?
We need to get beyond this:

We know we need to have some accountability for what students learn and what is taught. Instruction should never fall short of excellence. We need to broaden the way we assess. It will take more effort perhaps, and maybe companies making materials and tests that align to standards won’t be able to profit so much from it. Maybe these assessments have to be the responsibility of the school district. Maybe educators have to look at the standards themselves and come up with some options for all types of learners. Included in this work should be self assessment. The kids really will learn more this way and they will have fun showing you what they know.

I know what I suggest may not be realistic. All I am asking is that there be some flexibility. I am asking to OPEN YOUR MIND. Sometimes the best questions don’t have one right answer.

Categories: 21st Century Education, assessents, Common Core Standards, creativity, Education reform, evaluation, Uncategorized


  1. I really love this piece Ruth. We all think back to the successes of our kids, and a big part of these successes are how they express themselves … in whatever venue that may be. I wish testing would reflect that.

    When my daughter was an 11th grader, she had to give a presentation in her Creative Writing class. The topic was – “What do other people think think about me.” Everyone else in the class gave pretty much a summary assessment. But not Alexandria.

    Alex is a chapstick freak. Now I’m talking full on. They’re everywhere! I shouldn’t pass judgement though … since she got it from me. And since the class was “creative writing,” she felt compelled to be creative (of course).

    Now no one person looks at you the same. Your parents one way, your best friend another way. Any summary would do no view justice. Thus ~ Alex and her chapstick brigade. Alex’s presentation consisted of of a row of ten chapsticks, all of different varieties. During her talk four of them came out front and said what they thought of her. They represented her boyfriend, her best friend, her economics teacher and me. Every perspective of my daughter was different – as is every person in your life.

    The creativity thinking that up made me proud. No standardized test, no #2 pencil, no blackened ovals can assess that. They can’t can’t show how much Alex learned in her Creative Writing class.

    All they can do is … well, I don’t really know?

    • I love it and I say good for her! I hope she got the feedback that was deserved. Out of the box thinking must be encouraged. Our kids are always teaching us, aren’t they? I didn’t mention it, and I am so proud of my daughter, but those tests over all those years were almost her undoing. She did the IB program and although it culminates in paper and pencil tests, there are a lot of creative projects for students to use their abilities to show you who they are.

      Thanks as always, for your kind support.

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