March 29, 2017

The Superpower of “Activities” vs. the Evil of “Assessments” A.K.A Tests without the “T” Word

To be effective, learning needs to be fun and interesting. A large obstacle to a student’s fun and interest is unnecessary confusion caused by the labels given to activities.

It’s not always the materials that can cause problems, but how you label them and how you sequence them.

The same word — “Assessment” — is used by K12 curriculum to label both a test and a supposed learning tool. Yet any child is going to interpret this “learning tool” as a test. It can’t be both. If you are going to call your testing “Assessments,” then stick to that and call the learning drills/activities/exercises something else.


Even if an “Assessment” was intended by the creator to be a learning activity, each is percentage graded, so it feels, looks and smells like a test because … well, it IS an actual test packaged under a different word. You can’t label a rabbit “cow” and expect the kids to buy it for long, if at all.

With K-12 curriculum, students get a test (A.K.A. Assessment) after most lessons and then more tests after chapters, another after a unit and even another comprehensive test after each semester; plus the State-mandated annual test. Translation: Most steps a student takes in the virtual K12 curriculum have graded assessments (tests), which puts the emphasis on test taking and passing – not on learning.

Can you remember your testing in school? Think about it: When you got something wrong on a test, how did you feel? That was a penalty in itself, right? You might have felt inadequate and stupid and disappointed in yourself.  You may have compared yourself to others and felt jealous of those who were “smarter” than you because they had higher test scores, etc. etc.


But how hard was it to take a test when you really understood the material?

K12 has a useful review feature for missed questions, but it is incorrectly sequenced. This is not a difficult fix and the fix would maximize true learning speeds.

Here is a problem with K12 testing “Assessment”:

Currently a student completes a full online testing “Assessment” following most K12 curriculum lessons. He has to take the entire assessment before he finds out what he missed. At the end of each assessment he has the option to go to “Review” and get an explanation as to why he got a question incorrect, but only after the student finished the entire assessment. He does not find out what he got wrong until the very end.

Perhaps he “guessed” it right (having not really learned it) and he knows he only guessed at it.  He never gets a chance to “review” what he guessed at, so he hangs out in a mental fog while trying to answer other assessment questions and here comes the anxiety.

Granted, a student can review an explanation for each of his missed questions, but then has to retake the entire “Assessment” (test) with different questions, not just questions on the material he missed. He can take the entire assessment more than once until he gets the “grade” he wants. At ORVA K12 a student can only take it 3 times before he is “locked-out” and has to report to the teacher what a failure he was and could she please re-set the test. How insulting to the student!

This system is “learning” through the punishment of testing. Really?  Is this what the accumulation of our social and mental sciences was intended for — using punishment to force the minds of our children to properly answer test questions? I don’t think it was intended that way, as too many good folks worked hard to put it together.

My 9-year-old 5th Grader finally vocalized and confessed the upset he was experiencing with a boatload of testing after most every single ORVA K-12 assignment. In one minute he nailed the problem and gave it a solution:

“Mom, testing should only be done after you have really learned the material. All they (K12) do is test us with assessments in every lesson. Why not turn all the assessments into non-graded ‘Learning Activities?’ I could answer the question and if I get it wrong, then right away it shows me what I didn’t understand and allows me to practice a few times with it.  I could even ask to do more practice questions, knowing I don’t really know the materiel and I’m just guessing. I only want to take a real test at the end, when I really have learned it.”

 Right out of the mouth of an Educators’ actual “public” – children!

Children will tell you the problems and their brilliant solutions if you bother to survey and really listen to them. And you actually have the advantage of finding the truth as they have fewer filters on their mouth.


Good marketing technology tells you to locate your exact public, survey them for what they need and want, then package the material in such a way that it fits their needs.

Thus, a message to the K12 Curriculum Department and any others creating virtual schools and standard curriculum:

Stop labeling your actual tests and learning exercises with the same word – “Assessments.” It’s not fooling the kids, it’s confusing them. Call them “Learning Exercises” or “Learning Activities” or whatever properly surveyed label you come up with — from children, not just teachers. And stop grading them. Just give a “correct” or “incorrect” feedback right away.


Instead, make these Assessments actual tools to learn with. This means emphasizing the pleasure of success and not the pain of wrong doing.

  • If a child gets a question wrong, then RIGHT AWAY show them the material they missed and give a few more practice questions covering only that material.
  • Let the child decide if he needs another 2-5+ practice questions after being shown answers to wrong questions, before he moves on with the learning exercise/activity.
  • Only after they have understood and mastered that one point should they continue down the rest of the “Learning Activities.”

Educators and Parents please remember, children are fundamentally just like you and me, but in smaller bodies. They need respect and want to seek pleasurable activities, just like you and me. They don’t like to be wrong or inadequate – just like you and me.

An effective learning system has to offer far more successes to them than losses. Missed test questions are always a loss for them unless something is done to ensure they understand the material before they move on.

Would you stick around at a job if you were making mistakes at every turn?  Getting even 1 question wrong = mistake to a student.

I am not saying stop testing; It is a good cross-check at the end of a course of study, when you think the student has learned everything. But testing is not a substitute for learning It is just an assurance that the student really, truly understands the material and can do something with what he learned.

If teachers need to monitor progress, they can do so through the learning activities. Either the student can perform/answer correctly or not.  There is no need to stress a student out because a teacher wants to know if he/she is effectively teaching.

Even my 5th Grader is okay with taking a test, but at the end of a subject and only after he feels he has really learned the material. If he has to take a test before he knows he has learned it, then it causes anxiety and resistance on his part.

Children like the validation of getting “good grades.” But more importantly, they like the feeling of having really learned something they can use in their lives; and they know the difference.

Dana Houston Jackson


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