Assessment as Learning: The case for calling low-stakes tests ‘retrieval practice’

5 October 2018

The idea of testing learners in a lesson is often met by an audible groan from students and even an undetectable wince from the teachers who are themselves issuing the test. And why should we expect otherwise? Through years of schoolingg, students have learned that tests are high-stakes methods of deciding success or failure, affecting which group they may land in and, in some cases, what school or university they will (or will not) go to. We have conditioned them to ‘take the test seriously’.

 

‘Most teachers view tests (and other forms of assessment, such as homework, essays, and papers) as necessary evils. We are often also conscious of over‐testing and the negative effects that we perceive that this has on students.’ Alex Quigley (Education Endowment Foundation).

Whilst many debate the role and purpose of assessment, high-stakes tests clearly still have a place in the system. They capture something about where a child is at in their learning (assessment of learning) as well as help us as educators consider ways of helping them move forward in their learning (assessment for learning). However, given the evidence around

the positive effects of using testing to deepen and advance learning, is it time for us as teachers to introduce assessment as learning in our classrooms? For such activities we could do away with the term ‘test’ and replace it with ‘retrieval practice’, helping students to understand the true power of what they’re engaging in.

There is substantial evidence that concludes that regular assessment, such as low‐stakes testing, improves performance, due to the active retrieval that takes place during tests.

Research carried out by Roediger, Putman and Smith (2011) outlines 10 benefits of regular testing (all to enhance learning) after a series of robust experiments:

  • Benefit 1 The testing effect: retrieval aids later retention
  • Benefit 2 Testing identifies gaps in knowledge
  • Benefit 3 Testing produces better organisation of knowledge
  • Benefit 4 Testing improves metacognitive monitoring
  • Benefit 5 Testing improves transfer of knowledge to new contexts
  • Benefit 6 Testing provides feedback to instructors
  • Benefit 7 Frequent testing encourages students to study
  • Benefit 8 Testing causes students to learn more
  • Benefit 9 Testing can facilitate retrieval of information
  • Benefit 10 Testing prevents interference when learning new material that was not tested

Our Leading Learning course, designed with the Huntington Research School Team, has a pack of practical tools for putting high-impact practices to work in the classroom. One such resource includes ideas about how to use testing to further progress…

Here a three ideas for how you might use testing as learning in your classroom:

  1. Progress Check‐in sheets are a great way of priming students’ learning. At the start of each topic, give them a list of, say, 10 questions to complete in 10 – 15 minutes. Research shows that pre‐testing causes students to learn more, mainly because their learning has been primed and retention and retrieval becomes easier. A progress check‐in also provides essential feedback to teachers as to what students already know and what gaps exist.
  2. Pre‐tests, or doing a test before the ‘proper test’ work! Taking a test doesn’t just measure how much you know, it helps reinforce the learning and make it more likely that you can retrieve the same information later. Research has shown that no matter how poorly you do on the pre‐test, you will still perform better on the real test (compared with not doing the pre‐test).
  3. Students create their own test as they learn. Students can be encouraged to write questions in the margin of their work as they go through a lesson. This helps them to intimately understand the demands of the learning, whilst providing you and the fellow students with a ready‐made resource. At points in the lesson as well as at the end, students can cover the rest of their work and run through the questions in sequence knowing where in the lesson the question is linked to. It also focuses their attention on what they have learned and can really develop their metacognitive skills. Be aware though, it does take a strong background knowledge and support to devise a good test!

Further reading on Testing AS Learning:

‘Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice’ (Roediger, Putman and Smith): http://bit.ly/1i7NN4W

‘10 reasons why practice tests help make perfect exams’ (Kleeman) http://bit.ly/2iXHur5

‘Advanced Formative Assessment in Every Classroom’, ASCD: http://bit.ly/1qjMVCS

Posted on 5 October 2018
Posted in: Blog

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