Why “Test” is a Four-Letter Word

Tests are simply unnecessary for language learning.  Because I ascribe to Krashen’s mantra of “No unnecessary tests,” I chose not to use traditional tests, but instead focus on what children are authentically doing in a classroom.

An authentic assessment is one where we don’t just test for knowledge or skills, selecting A, B, C or true/false.  Instead, children actually use knowledge or newly-acquired language  to communicate in a way that imitates the classroom and real-world communication.

In a some content-area classes, tests are needed as performance assessments are hard to set up. Sometimes chemistry teachers want to use tests first to make sure children don’t blow up the lab or waste chemicals.  But the goal of all tests are to move towards more authentic assessments…to get in the “lab” and experiment with what you’re learning.

In language learning, there is no expensive equipment and no special time or work setting up assessments.   Authentic assessments can be learning experiences themselves, no time wasted on a test.  Authentic assessments are not (usually) a separate step; they are ideally embedded into the lesson. They can be from the independent practice or  whole group or small group responses.

Authentically communicative assessments improve trust between the teacher and the student. Teachers hold students accountable for sitting up and communicating nonverbally- not just cramming before a test but shutting down in class. Students trust that teachers will do their part and use authentic assessments to modify their output so kids understand better.  Kids know they have a creative voice and feel like their efforts are honored.

Also, our assessment, instruction, and curricular goals all align (called constructive alignment).  If we instruct with compelling, comprehensible stories, the most valid assessment is asking kids to retell (verbally or nonverbally) what they comprehend from stories.

Authentic assessment has nothing to do with the tests traditional teachers photocopy from a textbook.  Non-CI teachers drill children in skills, then give a “summative” test several weeks out and never revisit, reteach, or reflect on how well children understood language.

To use authentic assessments, traditional teachers have to start providing comprehensible input and open up real back and forth communication with students.  But CI teachers should just keep up the Listen and Draw, TPR, “teaching to the eyes” with jGR/the Interpersonal Speaking Rubric, and story retells (written or illustrated).  We don’t have to do anything extra…and we don’t have to test.

Beniko Mason writes simply, “Let’s not test…Let’s just observe what they can do, and decide what we should do next for them.”

“Let’s just observe” with rubrics, checklists, anecdotal records, miscue analysis, or more often just a mental note.  Let’s observe student performances that indicate that they understand compelling, comprehensible messages the cornerstone of our assessments.

Here is a list of talking points on the problems behind tests, and arguments for authentic assessment.


Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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