Testing is the norm in schools. Beginning of the year ability tests, end of the week spelling test, end of term assessments, mental maths tests. Tests, tests, tests. And even when there aren’t tests, children are being watched and assessed. Learning is measured and monitored constantly within schools.
When our children are living a life without school, there are no formal tests, no activities set up specifically for assessment opportunities, no being quizzed by parents on multiplications at dinner time, or flashcards before bed. It might be logical to conclude that without testing, learning doesn’t happen, or at least, we don’t know that it has happened.
The purpose of testing in schools is to provide information to the teacher on individual pupils attainment, measure collective knowledge, who needs to revisit what content, what needs to be retaught, what children can be grouped together and complete the same work. Test scores go towards measuring individual achievements, as well tracking teachers progress, and ultimately school success (according to these test results.) Ultimately students are graded at the point of their final exams. These are then used to offer them placements in further education, apprenticeships, and workplaces accordingly. Tests set out to assess what has been learned and how well it has been retained.
Is it possible that without a test, learning even happened?
In the years before a child attends school, there are fewer tests. It is easy to observe that an infant is learning because it happens at such a rapid rate. Within the first year of human life a baby often develops from completely immobile to crawling, from milk feeding to also taking solid food, their vision comes into focus, they track objects with their eyes, they begin to control their limbs, reach out, grab objects and place them in their mouths, they roll over, sit up, and learn to smile, and laugh. When you compare a newborn baby to a one year old, no matter what milestones an individual baby has met, it is impossible to deny the astonishing amount of learning that has occurred.
It is a continuation of this process that occurs throughout our children’s lives that assures us that learning is happening. One day our six year old is showing us how to play a game on the pc, or your eight year old will be eloquently describing the complexities of different emotions that arise when she thinks about certain events. Your eleven year old will be explaining the importance of bees to the ecosystem in a discussion that began as an observation on a flower in bloom, or your thirteen year old will be talking you through how special effects were created in a recent film you’ve watched together.
Schools rely on pen and paper testing as a means of tracking the effectiveness of teaching, on the learning, of specific curriculum content. Real life learning doesn’t need testing. Testing serves no purpose. Pen and paper testing, or even recording, for the benefit of regurgitating, or displaying physical evidence of learning, is unnecessary in the day to day life of a child outside the confines of school.
We know that our children are learning because we talk to them and they talk to us. We know that our children are learning because they can do things this year that they couldn’t do last year. We know that our children are learning because we witness their successes and moments of realisation right before our eyes. We know that they are learning because we are present for their journey, and see the processes they go through. We know that they are learning because we know that it is impossible not to learn.