Diagnostic testing: how to learn what a pupil needs

By , Education editor of The Christian Science Monitor

To oversimplify: There are two types of school tests. The one which attempts to find out what a student has learned; and the other which attempts to find out not only what a student needs to learn, but by what teaching method.

Schools generally give too many of the first type and too few of the second.

What's needed are more diagnostic examinations -- teacher-made tests that show teachers not only how large and deep is the knowledge vacuum in a specific subject, but which teaching style works best with each individual pupil.

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Breaking students into three different learning styles (another oversimplication) -- visual, oral, kinesthetic -- a well-crafted diagnostic test will employ each of these learning methods, and hence discover which seems "natural" to which pupils.

At the same time a good diagnostic test reveals what each pupil already knows about a subject, and what might profitably now be taught.

Saying all this and then expecting that once said all a school has to do is tell its teachers to devise and administer such tests, is patent nonsense.

Before the teachers in any one of the more than 40,000 US school districts can give a pupil a diagnostic test, they must learn how to make up such tests, how to evaluate the results, and further how to use the information they get from their analysis in preparing new course material.

Where can teachers turn to get such information?

* To the psychometricians already employed by their school district.

* To the testing departments at the nearest college or university.

* To the test developers on the staffs of nonprofit test construction companies.

If teachers only learned how to tell which of their pupils preferred to learn kinethetically rather than visually or orally, they would have learned an enormous amount. They would be well on their way to being able to design lessons appropriate to each type of learner.

But what a further bonanza if they were able to give frequent tests which would tell them just what to teach next basec on what had already been learned.

Next week: In and out of the restroom.

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