How Testing Bolsters Learning

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Second Rail Education
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A former assistant superintendent and chief legal officer with Niles Township High School District 219 in Skokie, Illinois, John Heintz is a co-founder of Lydian, a management consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. John Heintz also writes content for Second Rail Education, a blog he founded as a way to explore key educational issues in Chicago and beyond.

Critics have railed against increased standardized testing demands ever since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in the early 2000s. While standardized testing can detract from nuanced, individualized education, it is important to understand the importance of frequent testing, regardless of whether it is standardized or not.

Research has demonstrated that taking a test greatly improves the learner’s ability to retain material in the long term. According to a study performed by researchers at Washington University, the so-called “testing effect” on learning holds true even when students perform poorly on a test or receive no feedback on missed information. In the same vein, Harvard psychology professor William James famously postulated that attempts to retrieve information from memory improve retention far more than simply looking for the answer in a textbook.

One major criticism of standardized testing centers on the fact that it tests the sum total of students’ knowledge, meaning that little to no learning actually takes place. “Formative assessments,” on the other hand, are designed to expose gaps in knowledge and ultimately contribute to the learning process.

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