P. L. Lijnse
Centre for Science and Mathematics Education, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Reading Black's paper, I realised how closely it is related to my own paper on curriculum development and how little explicit attention I have paid to curriculum evaluation, and to the role of assessment. Both in large scale curriculum development and in the design of a single lesson, one starts usually with thinking about what one wants to achieve, i.e., with thinking about (new) aims and about how to reach them. However, it is the function of evaluation and assessment, at the endpoint of the spectrum of educational activities, to reveal to what extent such aims and ways to reach them have been realistic. Much evaluation has shown that many curriculum projects had only moderate success, and one of its reasons could well be that, often, too little attention has been given to the role of assessment. For many teachers, and particularly for teachers who have to work within the constraints of some kind of centralised school and examination system, it is the final assessment for certification that, in the first place, decides what to teach and how to teach it. In those centralised assessments, it is operationally made clear what all the usual curriculum rhetoric is supposed to mean in practice; which, and to what depth, concepts and skills are supposed to be understood and learned. Could one say that curriculum philosophy drives the written curriculum, often, it is the testing practice that drives curriculum practice. Thus testing is an essential instrument for curriculum change and implementation, that not always has got enough attention from curriculum developers. In fact, quite often it appears to be rather difficult to design objectively scorable tests, as are often desired in such certification assessments, that do real justice to all the advocated new aims, be it in the form of conceptual understanding, new skills, or new attitudes. And if new aims are not properly tested, usually teachers do not teach them. The influence of testing on the curriculum may even go a big step further, in the sense that what cannot be objectively tested, should not be part of the curriculum. E.g., in the Netherlands, a successful experiment with the introduction of some Quantum Mechanics in our secondary schools has not led to its adoption in the official curriculum, as, at that level, though the topic was considered to be teachable, it was not considered to be sufficiently testable. So far, my remarks have primarily dealt with summative testing. However, Black quite appropriately also on the role of formative testing in providing teacher/pupil feedback on the teaching/learning process. Again, what he describes is, I think, an essential addition to what I have described at the end of my paper under the heading of developmental research. If we develop new teaching/learning-research-based curricula, we also have to develop new ways of testing that fit into and even strengthen such approaches. The described formative testing procedures aimed at 'developing good practice' seem to be precisely able to play that role. In fact, these formative ways of providing teacher and pupil feedback could be a most essential instrument in keeping the required teaching/learning processes as much as possible on the right track. If we could develop ways of testing that are accepted and can be used both by pupils and teachers for this purpose, instead of the usual 'mark-dominated' testing procedures, than classrooms could become to look much more like mature communication communities, in which teachers and pupils really cooperate in the learning and teaching of physics and in which the detrimental motivational effects of 'the continuous stress of having to work for tests', could be avoided.