TESTING IS an all-purpose tool in today's school systems, with students frequently being evaluated for grades, advancement, graduation, and college entrance and exit. Because so much of this testing is a game played for high stakes, many students of all ages and ability levels have developed extremely high levels of test anxiety.
Teachers use an array of strategies to address the needs of diverse learners and so improve student learning. Why then, don't we use similar methods and strategies when assessing student progress? Wouldn't it seem sensible to test in a fashion similar to the way students have practiced and learned? Yet even as teachers try to teach students in creative, meaningful ways and help them develop a desire for lifelong learning, high-stakes testing is acting in opposition to, even inadvertently defeating, these efforts. We believe that learning can and should be enjoyable, exploratory, meaningful, long-lasting, and filled with discovery. And we also believe that testing can be a part of that experience.
Various studies have shown that students who score high on measures of test anxiety will score lower on tests than students whose anxiety scores are lower. (1) More specifically, test anxiety is one of the variables most commonly associated with student underachievement and so poses serious problems for students at all academic levels. (2) Other research has concluded that subjects who are highly anxious when under evaluative stress not only perform at lower levels, but also spend less time on academic tasks. (3) Moreover, highly test-anxious students who do poorly on traditional tests perform at a level similar to their peers on other tasks. (4) This refutes the idea that students use test anxiety as an excuse for their failure to study or for poor study habits.
Some people are just not good at taking traditional tests. Some students feel more comfortable expressing information through discussion, presentation, demonstration, and other creative means. We believe that an easy approach to reducing test anxiety would be to use a variety of testing techniques. We do not advocate the removal of traditional testing methods from schools. Instead, we favor of the use of additional evaluation methods that make use of various classroom activities, strategies, and procedures.
For Matt, the idea of team testing grew out of an observation he made in 2003, while he was teaching English classes for grades 5 through 8. Matt noticed that his students could readily discuss any given grammatical or mechanical idea, so long as they were "talking about" it or could speak their minds in the classroom. When students were asked to read a sentence aloud and locate its direct object, the majority could accomplish the task with relative ease. When students were asked to identify the characteristics that distinguish a concrete noun from an abstract noun, most of them could do that as well. However, as soon as written tests were distributed, the students' knowledge simply vanished.
This discrepancy between students' ability to discuss a topic knowledgeably and their inability to master a written test on the same topic was pervasive--and perplexing. On numerous occasions Matt discussed test anxiety and study skills with his students. He also stressed that effort, not grades, was the key ingredient to success in his class. But the discrepancy persisted. Finally, while he was preparing to administer a test on sentence fragments, it dawned on him that the pivotal component of the discrepancy had to be language. During instructional times, students were allowed to talk. During testing, they were not. So Matt devised a plan whereby his classes could make orderly, authentic use of oral communication through "team testing."
Amanda was teaching high school English classes of approximately 20 students each. Their range of abilities was wide. Her students seemed to express intelligent solutions and demonstrate excellent retention of all material, as long as they were given a chance to verbalize their answers. …