This post is part of a series of responses to the ebook Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin.
In his work, Seth Godin criticizes the process of testing, saying it doesn’t inspire passion or a deep desire to know a subject (and of course, can do just the opposite.) Creativity, innovation, and motivation are traits that will set young people apart as they create job opportunities and careers for themselves in our uncertain economic climate. So how does multiple choice testing prepare young people for the world, Godin asks? His answer, of course, is that it doesn’t.
As I read through these sections, I realized, “Hey! I went to a college without tests.” It’s not something I always think about, but tests were not a learning tool that any of my professors chose to use, ever. I never once took a test in college, save for my Wilderness First Responder and CPR course. That’s it. Maybe what’s most interesting about that realization is that as radical as the notion of a test-free campus may seem to some, it’s not even the trait that first comes to my mind when I describe my former school. (I usually describe Hampshire as a school where you design your own course of study and there are no grades.) Not having tests felt so natural that I’ve hardly bothered to remember that it’s supposed to be radical.
I was fortunate in high school that I had passionate, engaged teachers, that I loved to read, and that I can test well. Even when I wasn’t inspired by my teachers, reading an American History textbook was lively for me, full of juicy stories and intrigue. Testing didn’t deter me because I could score well enough, (with a whole lot more struggling in math and science) and I was still engaged in learning. So, at Hampshire, where I continued to have teachers who cared about their subjects and wanted to share stories and ideas, I could focus on just the good stuff. Because there had been enough “good stuff” and engaged learning in high school for me too, even with the tests, there wasn’t a dramatic contrast for me to be thankful that I was finally rid of them. Testing, for me, just sneakily and quietly dropped out the window. And I have never missed it, not once.
So how did our professors know we were learning? I wrote a lot. I wrote paragraph responses, I wrote analytical essays about theory, I wrote literary analysis, I wrote descriptive ethnography that I turned into creative non-fiction narratives. I choreographed dance responses to required dance concert viewings. Friends of mine collaborated with one another to compose and perform music, while others created podcasts of oral histories. Did everyone, including me, who was tested this way learn the most they could have? Maybe, and maybe not. But it was always much more than a, b, c or d and almost always proved to be interesting and innovative. And those are skills we need.
So what do you think? Does multiple choice testing have a place in our schools, at any level, ever? Is Hampshire unique or have you experienced test-free environments within your particular academic discipline?