Pass or Fail: Multiple Assessments to Determine True Learning

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

Student assessment is a necessary evil of the teaching profession but what is actually most effective?

Ankur Singh, formerly a student at the University of Missouri–Columbia, took an English class in his junior year of high school that influenced him profoundly.

“It was the only class I’ve ever taken where the lessons I learned will carry with me for the rest of my life, and after completion, I felt ten times smarter,” he says. The teacher focused on the development of the students’ critical-thinking skills and ensured that they were able to analyze poems and essays. He was keen to allow each student to form his or her opinions.

Because Singh loved the junior-year English class so much, he expected the college-prep AP English course he enrolled in during his senior year would be equally enjoyable. However, it turned out to be an awful experience. The critical-thinking skills he had honed the previous year were of no use in the new class; instead, the classes focused solely on preparing them for the inevitable exam. “It frustrated me to no avail, and I ended up doing very poor in AP English,” Singh says. “And I found the same thing in all of my other AP classes, which seemed more focused on college preparation and standardized tests rather than genuine learning.”

Singh began to wonder what the real purpose of education was. “All around me were students studying diligently, stressing out about their grades, homework, the ACT, college essays, AP tests. And here I was not caring about any of those things. Were there no students in this school who wanted anything more than just a college degree and a job?” He began to feel lonely, and then angry. Finally, during an AP French exam, he used the time to write a furious letter to the College Board, expressing his misgivings.

Though he expected to be reprimanded by his French teacher for writing a letter rather than taking the exam, she listened sympathetically and told him that she felt the same frustrations with the system. Though she had wanted to take the French students on field trips to a French bakery or watch a French film, she was forced to teach to the test. “Maybe if the students themselves spoke out against it,” she said, “it could all change.”

As Ankur Singh’s story demonstrates, the current model of assessments can lead to frustration in students and teachers alike. In a previous article, we outlined ways in which administrators in education might manage the hiring of qualified teachers and how they might also use the availability of qualified teachers to promote student success in the classroom. In the following articles, we will look at the use of multiple assessment measures in determining a student’s abilities and academic potential.

The basic premise of this strategy is as follows: Many states and school districts rely on large-scale assessments when making decisions about student grade progression. Despite the evidence that such assessments are not always an accurate reflection of a student’s academic abilities and despite the reality that most testing experts warn that high stakes retention or promotion decisions should never be made by a single assessment, states and school districts rely on these assessments.

How can we change the way we look at student assessments – and how can they benefit our students as a result?



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