Say yes to the test

Testing, the Chinese Way, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, September 11, 2010.

Of all the emotions evoked by the word “test,” pleasurable curiosity is probably not at the top of your list. That’s because you live in America, where testing is condemned for stifling individuality, creativity, and real content knowledge. Move half way around the globe, however, and your perspective would change. That’s what happened to NYT correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal’s children, who, after attending elementary school in China, where they were regularly tested, found their new no-grades and no-tests progressive (presumably private) American school in New York City unsettling. Or as Rosenthal’s daughter asked after a month sans tests, “How do I know if I get what’s going on in math class?” (Both children are now at a Big Apple specialized public high school where they relish the feedback of frequent testing—and a significant portion of their classmates are Asian.) UNC-Chapel Hill professor Gregory Cizek takes it a step further: “What’s best for kids is frequent testing, where even if they do badly, they can get help and improve and have the satisfaction of doing better,” he explains. Yes, he acknowledges, tests must be age appropriate—three-year-olds can’t spend hours filling in bubbles—and the Chinese system, where university entrance rests on one make-it-or-break-it exam, is a bit extreme. But there is a happy medium, where tests are frequent and helpful, as the Rosenthal kids will attest.