Saturday, 2 July 2016

Overtesting Culture Endangers Students

Jamaica tends to look at her powerful North America neighbor the United States of America for guidance and ideas regarding policies from time to time. It is well established that the USA has a culture of overtesting their students and Education Minister Ruel Reid’s plan to introduce a new diagnostic test for grade nine students could be seen as moving Jamaica towards a culture of overtesting.  The pending introduction of a National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test should begin in the academic year 2019/2020. It is noteworthy that some grade nine students already do a diagnostic test in the Grade Nine Achievement Test (GNAT) which is used to transfer students from all age and junior high schools to the 10th grade in secondary schools.
Under the National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test proposal all students in grade nine irrespective of whether they attend all-age, junior high or secondary schools will be required to sit this examination which will be used to promote students to the tenth grade. Currently, all schools utilize their end of term/end of year examinations to promote their students. What will become of internal examinations? Will we abandon end of year examinations?
Interestingly, high performing nations such as Japan, Singapore and Finland do not allow for so much standardized testing of their students, yet those countries are far ahead in student outcomes than those who are embedded and fixated in a culture of overtesting.  Why are we choosing this route to test our already overtested students? Our students are tested at grade four in primary schools, when they sit the Grade Four Numeracy and Literacy Tests. Additionally, students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which is used to transfer students to high schools.
In grade three, students are also required to do the Grade Three Diagnostic Test. There is also the Grade One Readiness Inventory Test. Let us not forget that there is also the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the e-Learning Company Jamaica Limited Grade 9 Diagnostic Test. I suspect that some of these standardized tests, especially those done at grade nine, will now become redundant. Our students, like all other students in the English speaking Caribbean also sit the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) in grade eleven.  
It is no wonder that a significant number of our students are burnt out by the time they reach  high school. We must tread carefully along this tradition of overtesting as it quite likely that our students are being denied an authentic educational experience. We are slowly moving towards a culture of anxiety and tension among our students. Yes, standardized tests do have a place in the education system. Yes, we must administer tools of assessment to know where our students are. However, learning should also be fun and we should not rob our students of a rich and diverse teaching and learning experience solely for data gathering.
Wayne Campbell