Putting students to the test, but is it for the best?

THE conversations you have in the car with your teenage children can be some of the most enlightening and enjoyable chats you may ever engage in.

My reasoning is you are in the same confined space and can't escape from the moving vehicle. Therefore it is a perfect time to discuss those tricky subjects and learn some interesting facts from their world.

On a recent trip my son asked me a philosophical question about our education system - a subject which I have debated many times with myself since leaving the teaching profession - the point of all the assessment.

There are many great things happening in our schools but for a very long time I have had misgivings about the amount of testing, assignments and projects students have to endure.

You may think my Year 9 child was just having a whinge about the workload but he actually made a valid point. Why is so much emphasis placed on assessment in the early high school years when only the senior year results go towards the student's exit score?

In my opinion our educational organisations spend way too much time focusing on assessment, reporting and evaluation, instead of engaging students in rich learning experiences.

Speaking with teachers, a common concern voiced is the feeling of rushing through the work with students so the curriculum is covered and reporting deadlines met.

I understand the benefits of measuring student knowledge, competencies and abilities. Testing is a tool that helps schools identify strengths and weaknesses in their learning programs but is it an instrument that is being overplayed?

It may give teachers a guide in targeting students requiring additional support or identifying those who would gain from greater challenges.

Unfortunately more often than not, assessment is used to verify learning rather than support learning.

Everything learnt and practised seems to culminate in a mark - a grade that identifies how well the student has performed according to a set of criteria.

This is necessary for senior years of learning to rank students according to their achievement and ascertain further education opportunities. But in the primary and middle school phases I believe programs should be developed to give children the chance to have a go at a wide range of activities without the stress of meeting set standards.

Building confidence, motivation and learning potential, through a set of teaching and learning processes that enhance rather than merely monitor student skills and knowledge, should be the main goals.

From the point of view of students the dynamics of the assessment experience can be very daunting.

I am confident most of my son's teachers have a good grasp of how he is doing without having to test him and could give me a fairly accurate report on his strengths and weaknesses.

However our chats in the car speak volumes. He communicates with me about his learning and that's better than any report card a school will ever give.