Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Test Is a Test? | September 20, 2013

Todd Conaway

We stood at the top of the grassy hill looking down the slope. My daughter was just out of training wheels and had yet to master moving forward on the bike without me holding her shoulder.

“Ok, are you ready for the test?” I asked her.

“Of course!” she said. And off she went. For a short way the first time and further down the slope and onto the flatter ground each time after. Peddling farther each time and then, it happened and she passed the test and was riding by herself.

Well, that is not like testing in Algebra or the multiple choice questions in a history class test you might say?

I vote the end result is exactly the same. It is an end result that demonstrates the ability to complete a task. Be that remembering a fact or rolling a kayak or mixing bead dough they all have similar qualities. But there are features in my daughter’s bike riding that are sadly missing from many assessments in school.

My daughter understood deeply that riding the bike would be a skill she would use for years because all around her were kids riding bikes. Not to mention how fun it is and how useful it is to travel across the ground so quickly. Biking had serious “relevance” to her and her life. In schooling there is often a huge disconnect between the content and the real world need or application. It is where the amazing teachers shine in making these connections to the real world and the class content.

My daughter had real support in the endeavor. Her sister, her mom, her friends all wanted her to succeed. There were terrible crashes and lots of tears and challenge. But all through it there was real support for her to lean on. In most cases, in school, it is hard to get the kind of support to overcome large challenges. Teachers are great supporters, but there are few of them and the amount of support needed to complete large projects or study deeply enough is too much for one person.

My daughter had different reasons to be successful at riding the bike on her own and the qualities are varied. There is an emotional attachment to the whole event. Emotions like fear and joy. There is the physical aspect. The balance, the muscles moving, the motion. The senses are involved. The wind rushing by and the smell of the grass and sunshine.

I think the more we can tap into all of these parts of being the more we can accurately see what we are capable of. Therein lies the art of testing I suppose? And while I as the dad could evaluate her and say, “You can ride by yourself,” the real wonder of it all comes from her when she says, “I can do this!”