and Realizations, Insights, Reflections

Scores… What are they good for?

*See here to appreciate the hilarity of that title 😉

There is only one test I can tell you exactly what score I got, and that was a standardized college readiness assessment called the ACT. I generally performed well in my classes but the scores have had little impact on my memories and knowledge retention. If I received a high score, my confidence and sense of self-worth would be improved but it didn’t affect the way I interpreted my learning success. A score was just a number to prove to myself and to my parents that I was awesome (joke!).  But really, test scores didn’t change the way I thought about how and what I learned. Tests were immutable and my success as a student in general (not on a specific subject) was supported or refuted depending on score.

I think teachers can generally agree that a test score is a pretty poor substitute for a mix of qualitative and quantitative data summarizing student learning. A test score of 85% cannot be universally interpreted. What does it mean to score 85%? For some subjects, tests, teachers, or courses, 85% might be a wonderful score. Scores are certainly valuable as snapshot evidence of student learning and teacher success.   Administration, teachers, parents, and students all eagerly await scores to serve as the basis of various decisions.

However, scores shed a very narrow beam of light on an individual student’s ever-evolving learning path. One score cannot tell the story behind all of the possible factors influencing test outcomes. Was the test poorly designed? Was the student well prepared? Was the assessment aligned with teaching activities? A score is never enough to give insight into student learning and teacher effectiveness. For this reason, a mix of assessment approaches is ideal. Varying formative and summative, authentic and traditional, and informal and formal assessment types give a fuller picture to what’s happening inside a classroom.


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