Opinion

Students think in different ways, test them accordingly

We need more diverse testing to meet students' varied learning styles

The educational system in America is in the midst of a paradox. While it is striving to generate an environment of different thinkers and accordingly different learners, it is subjecting all students to the same forms of testing. In order to accurately gauge students’ intelligence and comprehension of the subject material, educational institutions need to provide them with different types of testing layouts so that every student has an equal chance to showcase his or her cognitive ability and hard work.

Most colleges and universities aspire to comprise a diverse community in all aspects. This includes a populous of varied and unique learners, all of whom succeed better in certain circumstances and worse in others. Yet the majority of schools, including Binghamton University, test their students with the same few formats: the all too familiar multiple choice test, short answer or definition-based test, and writing-based exam or final paper. These methods of grading, however, only cater to a limited type of student, leaving the rest at a severe disadvantage.

Students are held accountable for their academic performance, but perhaps not rightfully so. For example, a student who tends to struggle with multiple choice tests will logically do worse than a student whose mind is naturally adept to that specific testing configuration, even if both students possess an equal understanding of the material’s content. This creates substantial issues for students with learning differences and disabilities, as well as students who hail from other countries or regions.

Accommodations such as extra time, a test reader, a computer and so on are thought to equalize the playing field, but in many cases they are not enough. A student who is given more time for one reason or another, yet is not — whether this be the result of a learning difference, language barrier or solely because of the uncontrollable chemical makeup of his or her brain — will do worse than a student whose unique brain chemistry is predisposed and naturally inclined to writing. Consequently, it will be easier for the latter student to succeed on writing-based tests despite the former student’s accommodations and even equal knowledge of the subject. As a result, accommodations neither solve the problem nor do they create equal opportunity.

Not only are accommodations extremely difficult to receive, even for students with learning disabilities or students who are not native English speakers, but it is also extraordinarily difficult to be diagnosed with a learning disability, which has much to do with social class and resources. Beyond that, it will be harder for students with language barriers to advocate for and implement those accommodations, if they are lucky enough to receive them. Additionally, all students, even without learning disabilities or language barriers, learn better in different environments and perform better and worse in certain settings and formats, yet the majority are tested the same way. Since specific accommodations should only be given to students with distinct needs as to not give advantages to students who do not need them, the only way to efficiently solve the problem of unfair testing is to change the educational testing system holistically.

Surely students should be familiar with all testing formats, but only to find what format works for the individual. Students should be given options of test formats so they can more accurately and effectively demonstrate their knowledge of the course. If a student is a great presenter, the option of a presentation or oral exam should be given. If the student is a great writer, then he or she should write a paper. If the student does better on a multiple choice exam instead of short answer exam or vice versa, then he or she should have the ability to choose. This method would mediate much of the stress students face, allowing them to better focus on course material and subsequently better exhibit their knowledge, which would result in both a greater measure of students’ success and the success of the school. Obviously it is far easier for schools to grade such an abundance of students’ scores with the same format of tests and Scantrons, but as every student learns at one time or another, the easy way out is rarely the best route to achievement.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.