Recently, a teacher called seeking advice on how to deal with students in his class who cheat on tests. Though he was looking for suggestions on how to effectively punish them, I challenged him to first think about the cause of their deception.
This educator was surprised by my question. Wasn't the answer obvious? The children cheated in order to inflate their grades. I kept on asking different questions until I realized that this teacher never asked himself the most important question: Why do we give students tests in the first place?
Conventional wisdom tells us that tests are administered in order that a teacher be able to gauge how his charges are mastering their subjects.
I feel very comfortable stating that if this is, in fact, the sole or main purpose of giving tests, then test taking should be stopped. I would go so far as to say that it is morally and ethically wrong to give tests just so that the teacher can know how his students are progressing academically.
For the record, I believe that test taking is very important for three primary reasons:
A) Doing so forces a good review of the material learned,
B) This enables the student to see for himself how much and how well he learned, and
C) Children need to learn how to take tests, since life is full of all kinds of tests.
I have heard many other arguments supporting test taking. The most common, from the instructor's perspective, is that he needs the test grades in order to give a report card. It would be my hope that every teacher would know how every student is doing by just being his or her teacher. There are so many real ways for a teacher to assess the progress of a student, without using tests to do so. I would hope that report card grades would be more of a reflection of the student's participation in class than how well he did on his tests.
Another reason many teachers feel they give tests is that doing so provides them with quantitative data ammunition to use and justify the report card grade to angry parents.
It is foolish and wrong to give tests for this reason. Those parents who question the grades will usually be the same ones who will still not be satisfied with any response they get as to why their child received a certain grade.
Instead, when questioning their child's grade, parents must ask themselves:
How do they react to a test score?
- What at-home academic support do they provide for their children?
- Are they providing the necessary quiet and comfortable setting for their children to study for tests?
Some may argue that we should stop the cheating problem by teaching our children the right values. I agree with that to a certain degree. I believe that we must teach children that cheating is wrong. But we don't need tests to teach that lesson. Furthermore, if we are being successful in teaching them the lesson of not cheating, why is cheating a problem that still exists in almost every school across the country?
Do we adequately teach students how to take tests?
- Do we teach students how to study for tests?
A very common question asked every day in classrooms across the country is: "Are we going to have to know this for the test?" That question should be a red flag that the wrong message is being conveyed to the students. Do we want them to think that they only have to learn the material that will be on a test? Obviously not! I would want students to know that anything a teacher teaches is something that the students need to learn and know. Whether or not the teacher will prepare a
question on a test to show the student if he learned the topic should not dictate if the student should pay attention to that lesson.
I may be fooling myself, but I strongly believe that if we can educate our children effectively as to why they take tests to show them how they did then we will also be successful in stopping much of the cheating that takes place during tests.
If a child understands that the test is for him to know how well he did, then he will hopefully realize that there is no benefit in cheating. He would realize that if he cheats, he is just cheating himself.
I believe that if we can succeed in changing the mindset of why we give tests, there would many additional benefits. Many students, especially those who have anxiety issues, will feel much less stress. That can hopefully help them focus on the real task at hand learning.
It is my hope that this article has at least opened the door for some further discussion on this topic. I also hope that we can all with teachers and parents working together change the common understanding of why students take tests. That will only be a first step, but it will be a huge one.
JWR contributor Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis and a columnist for Yated Neeman. Comment by clicking here.