Frequent testing of students undermines learning outcomes

The Education ministry disseminated an Assessment System Report titled Monitoring Learner Achievement at Class Three in Literacy and Numeracy in Kenya under the auspices of Kenya National Examinations Council’s (Knec) National Assessment Centre.

The study was aimed at monitoring learner achievement at Class 3 in Literacy and Numeracy. It was not about grades but what the learner should know and do when exposed to a certain course at a certain level of education. It had intriguing findings. Among the findings of the study were pupils who were subjected to frequent testing performed poorly in examinations.

It also noted that frequent testing becomes tedious and decreases the pupils’ interest in learning thereby affecting acquisition of desired competencies as teachers teach to the test and learners read to the test.

Predictably, the report advised teachers “to be cautious about the number of tests subjected to pupils in a term”.  Education experts view tests as meant to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning; how well students are being exposed to the curriculum, which is the Alpha and Omega of education.

The fact of the matter is that frequent testing takes far too much time away from learning, preventing students from gaining well-rounded skills and love for school.

Although the assessment report was restricted to Class Three learners, the frequency of testing that Knec noted cuts across the entire spectrum of the basic education system.  The Education ministry banned mock examinations in 2001 after a taskforce chaired by educationist Naomy  Wangai.  The team did not confine itself to administration of mock examinations; it also observed that the number of tests done in the entire school system were excessive and causes stress to the entire student body and unnecessary expenditure to parents.

The report recommended that there be a balance in learning and testing. The rationale for the restriction on inordinate testing was obvious.  Frequent testing of students—whatever the name given to the test —reduces the contact hours needed for teaching. It matters little whether the test is generated by the school singly, or a group of schools within a zone, sub-district or a county. They all compromise quality teaching and learning and affect the desired learning outcomes.

The rules the ministry has developed and maintained, in conjunction with stakeholders, are founded on solid ideas of leading education thinkers and psychologists. Although due for reform, the curriculum in force has the necessary breadth, depth and richness capable of imparting the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes in our students to make them useful to themselves, to the polity and to dynamism in the economy in general.  Well executed, it promises the Kenyan child, something to walk out with at the end of the educational system.

The tests done before the final examination should be to assess understanding and appropriate interventions to address the weakness in teaching and learning and not to impose labels and badges on the students.

The writer is a Communications Officer, Ministry of Education

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