Sat | Feb 24, 2018

Letter of the Day | Overtesting culture endangers students

Published:Saturday | July 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Jamaica tends to look to the United States of America for guidance and ideas regarding policies. It is well established that the US has a culture of overtesting its students, and Education Minister Ruel Reid's plan to introduce a new diagnostic test for grade nine students could be seen as moving Jamaica towards a culture of overtesting. The pending introduction of a National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test should begin the academic year 2019-2020. It is noteworthy that some grade nine students already do a diagnostic test - the Grade Nine Achievement Test (GNAT) - which is used to transfer students from all-age and junior high schools to the 10th grade in secondary schools.

Under the National Grade Nine Diagnostic Test proposal, all students in grade nine will be required to sit this examination, which will be used to promote students to the 10th grade. Currently, all schools utilise their end-of-term/end-of-year examinations to promote their students. What will become of internal examinations? Will we abandon end-of-year examinations?

Interestingly, high-performing nations such as Japan, Singapore, and Finland do not allow for so much standardised testing of their students, yet those countries are far ahead in student outcomes than those who are embedded in a culture of overtesting. Why are we choosing this route to test our already-overtested students? Our students are tested at grade four in primary schools when they sit the Grade Four Numeracy and Literacy Tests. Additionally, students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), which is used to transfer them to high schools.




In grade three, students are also required to do the Grade Three Diagnostic Test. There is also the Grade One Readiness Inventory Test. Let us not forget that there is also the Grade 9 Diagnostic Test. I suspect that some of these standardised tests, especially those done at grade nine, will now become redundant.

It is no wonder that a significant number of our students are burnt out by the time they reach high school. We must tread carefully along this tradition of overtesting as it is quite likely that our students are being denied an authentic educational experience.

Yes, standardised tests do have a place in the education system. Yes, we must administer tools of assessment to know where our students are. However, learning should also be fun, and we should not rob our students of a rich and diverse teaching and learning experience solely for data gathering.