Every student has experienced the stress of staying up late studying in hopes they will be able to remember the intricate details of osmosis for tomorrows’ biology midterm only to forget it the moment the test is over. Weekly testing, unfortunately, has been a constant for the majority of our adolescent years. Our education system places a lot of focus on testing as the most effective method of assessing academic achievement.
Many factors play into a student’s test scores. Some of these factors are environmental, while others are psychological, including stress. When students are stressed, the “brain is shunting its resources because it’s in survival mode, not memory mode” Dr. Kerry Ressler, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, said. This “brain shunting” can cause students to make mistakes throughout the test that lead to significantly lower scores, misrepresenting students’ understanding.
Environmental factors only further the psychological burden associated with test-taking. For example, living conditions play a significant role in someone’s ability to study or take tests. This includes noise, space to study, diet, and family relationships. With school moving to online learning, teachers must remember the range of conditions and, learning styles at home. The pandemic has only further highlighted testing’s flaws.
It is imperative we remember that not all students are created equal, and a test score is the result of many factors—some of which are uncontrollable. Students do not have access to the same opportunities at home as they might when they were at school.
Instead of treating students like robots all learning from the same instruction manual, celebrate their differences. This doesn’t mean we should get rid of testing altogether, but teachers should explore other tools for students’ understanding instead. This can start by setting up benchmark assessments to track students’ progress rather than a single test. We should use this moment and the changes brought by COVID-19 to explore how we support and reward students who learn rather than those who memorize.