Standardized Testing: It’s Time To Let Go

Standardized Testing: It’s Time To Let Go
Schools must look at creative and innovative ways to measure learning
By Paul O’Neill 

Recent events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have had immeasurable and ongoing effects in many industries and social services. Schools have not been immune. International and local schools across the world have experienced the most sustained shutdown in recent history. With no change to this insight, some schools have resumed operations online, with a quickly-crafted distance learning model to keep students out of the potentially infectious environments.


Cancellation of exams leads schools to re-evaluate assessment process

An unexpected consequence of the shutdown has been the cancellation of final exams in all the educational systems that maintain that practice. The pandemic has caused the cancellation of exams for the international curriculum IGCSE taught by more than 4,800 schools in over 150 countries, as well as schools following the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the US based Advanced Placement (AP) programs.

This has left senior students entering universities baffled as to what they will now use to access further education placements. A British-based examiner predicts that their board would work with schools to assess students using the “best available evidence”.

This year’s IB program, which is a two-year course providing an internationally accredited qualification for students to enter university, was taken by 200,000 students worldwide, including about 2,000 in Hong Kong. In the IB system, apart from the final exam, a student’s final grade is determined through internal assessments and coursework.

IB Schools will inevitably need to use predicted grades based on previously held internal mock exams and school-based course work to arrive at final grades for the subjects students have taken. These would also be issued by schools for universities to consider during the application process.

What’s interesting is that there will now be a precedent that a senior student’s grades can be determined without a final exam. Is this a purposeful trigger for us to think differently about how we evaluate learning in schools?


Standardized testing are choking students

During the last three decades, education reformers in America have pushed standardized testing and policies to improve test scores and proficiency in basic skills. However, during this period which Thomas Armstrong, an award-winning author, speaker and an educator for over forty-five years, calls the “miseducation of America,” a number of troubling trends have surfaced, including a decrease in creative thinking.

Schools across the country have passed a resolution saying standardized tests are ”strangling” schools. The National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, which calls on government officials to reduce standardized testing in US schools, has been endorsed by hundreds of organizations, and over 13,000 individuals.  And yet, in spite of all this, standardized testing is still choking students’ curiosity, creativity, and passion for learning in classrooms around the country and potentially over the world. Stress related issues among students taking the final exam has also been a contentious issue.  A study by ReachOut, a prominent online mental health organization for young people and their parents found that the number of young people seeking mental health or medical help had doubled in the past year. What’s evident is that schools are now having to implement social and emotional health curricula to counteract this very condition.


VERSO goes beyond grades and numbers 

At VERSO, an American international school in Bangkok, we have turned the page on standardized testing with an intentional focus on maintaining positive social, emotional and physical well-being. We predominantly believe in the individual and will not impose a cookie cutter assessment regime on our students. While we will have a highly rigorous and deeply engaging, future-focused curriculum that is benchmarked against globally recognized standards, we will not use a fixed testing method to determine whether a student has reached mastery in specific knowledge and skills.

Instead, there will be continuous assessment through our interactive digital platform called Course Compass, where students set their goals and track their own progress. Our Learning Designers (teachers) and parents can access and support the student’s learning journey through this platform.  Feedback and reflection happens constantly through regular sharing of students’ works during Show Time, one of the many ways they can demonstrate their learning.

We understand that learning is not a one-size-fits-all approach: it is a complex, messy and transformative process of meaning making through connections, interactions and experiences that build on prior understandings. Each child’s learning journey should and will be quite different. Hence the notion of providing a “standard” test to determine a child’s success or progress is now redundant thinking. Where else in the natural world is this kind of thinking accurate?

Our students will become the designers of their own learning as we gradually support them and teach them how to increase their independence and become self-directed learners. Foundational knowledge and skills introduced during the early years and primary school will be the platform for developing individualized and personalized learning programs based on interests, passions and things that matter to the learner. We are reshaping our curriculum to make it relevant to the complex world we live in now and that our learners will inherit.


Turning the page in education 


To help us navigate this enriching territory, we have developed a partnership with the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), a growing network of schools in the US and around the world that are introducing a digital high school transcript which will reflect the unique skills, strengths and interests of each learner. VERSO is the first international school in Thailand to join the MTC.

Employers and university professionals believe that students graduating from high school are largely unprepared for the world they will engage with. Instead of being trained with skills on how to work collaboratively, think critically, and solve complex problems, today’s students are mostly trapped in an outdated system that rewards only the acquisition of information segregated into subject area silos, disconnected from the real world application and connection. Students are often only assessed in all disciplines by their ability to write well.

The current high school transcript supports the status quo – it restricts progressive educational models that are designed to prepare students to be successful in college, career, and life. It encourages the separation of disciplines in an increasingly interdisciplinary world, makes learning less meaningful and ignores the development of skills and character traits, thereby reducing four years of a student’s hard work to a single number, the GPA.
The MTC partner schools and universities are essentially rewriting the narrative about pathways to careers and universities. Tony Wagner, acclaimed author of Creating Innovators, Global Achievement Gap and Most Likely to Succeed, and professor and expert in residence at Harvard University Innovation Lab, believes the MTC venture is a game changer and a potential tipping point in the transformation of education.

Here at VERSO, we believe we will be the lighthouse school in Asia, redesigning the school experience to achieve this objective and most importantly, to prepare students with the skills and mindsets to respond to a rapidly changing and highly unpredictable future that we foresaw when we set out to design this school. Turning the page never sounded so great.

About Paul O’Neill


Paul O’Neill is our Learning Designer (teacher) and Hub Director, tasked with designing and implementing the unique learning experiences at VERSO. His role is also centered around building networks and partnerships with the local and global community to support the learning program across the school.

Paul has a diploma of teaching and a master’s degree in further education and training. Prior to joining VERSO, Paul was Director of Learning Innovation at the American School in Japan. He is also a WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Chair and has conducted numerous accreditation visits to international schools throughout Asia. 

VERSO opens in August 2020. To speak with our Admissions team or schedule a video or voice call with one of Learning Designers (teachers), please email or call +66 2 080 6200.  To read more about our Learning Designers, please click here