Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 10, 2013

Testing 1, 2, 3

Filed under: Alameda, School — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

A commenter, rather than produce said “scientific research” — oh wait, scratch that, “Scientific Research” — that prove that testing indeed is a better way of helping people learn decided to double down on a thread about “high stakes testing” aka the tests required by the state to “measure” whatever it is that the federal government thinks should be measured in order to not leave children behind and infer that these tests are what helps “kids learn better.”

So I searched for said “Scientific Research” and uncovered this article with this pretty misleading (but catchy) headline:

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

I guess if you just stopped at the headline you have the “proof” that testing is the penultimate way of learning.   Everyone, stop what you’re doing, all we need is to put kids in front of a bunch of Khan Academy videos and then test them and voila!  Success!

However when you read the article, it’s actually not the same thing as these high stakes tests that the rest of us are talking about when we discuss “testing.”

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

The students who took the recall tests may “recognize some gaps in their knowledge,” said Marcia Linn, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “and they might revisit the ideas in the back of their mind or the front of their mind.”

When they are later asked what they have learned, she went on, they can more easily “retrieve it and organize the knowledge that they have in a way that makes sense to them.”

Later the article correctly defines the more successful method as “retrieval practice” which was writing a free form essay on what they remembered from reading a passage, then re-reading the passage and writing again, filling in the gaps of what they forgot the first time they read the essay. I guess you could call it a “test” but it also could be a journal or just an essay. Calling it a test is sort of a subjective call. But notice that the “testing” in this retrieval practice exercise did not include random bubbling with a number 2 pencil.

The letters to the editor turned up the same criticism I had when I first read the piece:

Yet, as one reads the article, this “testing” turns out to be what the researchers term “retrieval practice tests,” which are actually timed writing exercises in which students, after reading the assigned text, write a free-form essay for 10 minutes.

Hardly a teacher alive would be surprised to learn that students make better sense of what they read, and thus better retain the information, when they write about what they have just read. That is why good teachers routinely include informal writing with every reading assignment.

For the sake of our fractured education system, for the sake of our stressed schools and beleaguered teachers, for the sake — especially — of the children we are charged to educate, let us not confuse “writing” with “testing.”

And the wrap up from one of the researchers of the study:

“More testing isn’t necessarily better,” said Dr. Linn, who said her work with California school districts had found that asking students to explain what they did in a science experiment rather than having them simply conduct the hands-on experiment — a version of retrieval practice testing — was beneficial. “Some tests are just not learning opportunities. We need a different kind of testing than we currently have.”

This other study essentially says the opposite but in theory does pretty much the same thing which is having students as the teacher:

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In a phenomenon that scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake. But how can children, still learning themselves, teach others? One answer: They can tutor younger kids.

The point is to understand the information more deeply and be expected to regurgitate it back in some meaningful way (essay or verbal) appears to be a way to help some students  understand materials better and, more importantly, retain material better.



  1. at the outset of 3rd grade I had a reading tutor who had me read several pages and then answer multiple choice questions. The purpose was to help build reading comprehension and teach me to read slowly enough and thoroughly enough to retain all the content. It worked well in the tutoring environment but during bubble tests I was always sweating over the clock. In doing reading tutoring this summer at a library branch I noticed a children’s news sheet with similar exercises. After having the student read aloud to me I was surprised about both of us struggling with retention. I now have the added issue of aging brain, but it was good to be reminded not to plow through the reading just to say the words and to try to absorb the material.

    Comment by MI — December 10, 2013 @ 7:51 am

  2. Lauren I am on the Team…….There is no reason to worry about the 40% not getting it and I will just add this to my list of Excuses why to give up on those 3000+ students in AUSD and not focus on the problem…..If you do enough research you can find the studies….But I;m going to give up and not try……It reminds me of MI wanting me to explain what a video is about….After he stops watching after a minute..

    I am joining the Doooooo Team and giving up on looking for people and Ideas that are Really Working…..Hell we have over 50% proficient on most…….Were on Honor Roll…..Our State is 49th out of 50 in Student Performance..We are Socio Disadvantaged …..Our Parents are not Educated…..Churchlady knows one girl who was Special needs child and was not Probably tested…..This was a few years ago…..You have convinced me. Thanks!!!!

    Comment by I am on the Team — December 10, 2013 @ 8:42 am

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