Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Objective Tests in English Class

Evaluating student knowledge in the English classroom can be quite challenging, for much of the content centers around subjective skills and knowledge.  Certainly, in essay and short  answer writing, rubrics are a key factor and nearly indispensable if a teacher wants to be as fair and objective as possible.  However, English class also centers heavily on reading comprehension and knowledge of literary works.  And at the core, teachers must meet a standard of their student reading certain works of literature and "understanding literature as a record of the human condition."  Basically, teachers assign books like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice or other classics, and they want the students to benefit from knowledge of the books characters, setting, and theme.  In order to do so, teachers often feel they must confirm that the students actually read the book.  And objective testing is a time-honored way of doing that.  Giving objective "did-you-read-it" quizzes, as well as cumulative objective tests at the end of the unit, is standard practice.  If a student were to "study" Lord of the Flies, yet not even know who Simon is by the end of the unit, then the teacher has a problem, and the class was a waste of time.  Thus, an obligatory objective test is a way to assess knowledge - and there is nothing wrong with that.

Some teachers like to consider themselves "above" objective testing.  They seem to believe that a teacher is "copping out" if he gives an objective test and runs it through the Scan-tron machine.  Certainly, objective testing is only one narrow measure of knowledge, and the use of objective tests in classrooms can be abused.  However, there is nothing wrong and nothing to be ashamed of in giving objective tests.  We still live in an objective world, and students know the objective tests are valued because they are constantly taking them for the state and to "prove their worthiness" for college.  ACT and SAT are not going away, and even AP and IB both use objective tests to assess knowledge.  Thus, I use objective tests regularly in the English classroom - along with myriad other ways and an extensive load of writing.

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