• Robert Ahdoot

It's time to let it go, part 1 of 3

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

Yes, I'm going there. Declaring war on tests. Get ready.

This public breakup announcement was also published on ASCD Smartbrief Education, as will the next two posts on this topic, in the next two months.

Imagine that your academic crush is coming to town. You have followed her work for years; you’ve read her book; and, you can safely say that her work has made an indelible, positive impact on your life. You learn that this crush will be giving a talk at the local auditorium, so you quickly make your reservations and anticipate the event until its arrival.

Sadly though, during the talk that you were so looking forward to, your crush flops. Her messages, ones you know have life-changing capacity, which came through so resoundingly on her other platforms, just don’t penetrate to the audience. In addition, this person was clearly nervous, perhaps from presenting her ideas to a new crowd, with added pressures coming from both time constraints and, implicitly, the other speakers who presented beforehand and brought the house down. Your crush just froze.

Here’s the point: as she walks off the stage to a polite applause, would you silently renounce your admiration for this person’s work? Would you think that maybe she doesn’t really know the stuff she’s been espousing for years? Clearly, you wouldn’t. You would simply reason that she had an off night, that the pressure got to her and that she wasn’t able to deliver this time. You might even feel bad for her, seeing her underperform on this big night in her career. Regardless, you wouldn’t doubt her expertise.

Recently I’ve made a profound realization. This is the type of scenario we subject our students to on almost a daily basis. When we give students tests for example, the grade they receive is not based on their knowledge as much as it’s based on a single performance. “How can this person deserve an A?” we reason, “just look at his test scores!” And yet, we’re the same people who let our academic crush off the hook for having a bad night on stage. What’s even more startling is that we give a pass to the person who’s a professional in her field before we give a pass to the student who just recently learned the material. We defend the professional in her poor performance but shaft the far younger student for his even though that student was just introduced to the material only weeks ago.

It’s unfair and unjust. It’s time to let that all go.

It’s time to let go of what we’ve all believed the role of tests to be. Everyone, myself included, has been okay with the idea of the performative requirement