Posted by on March 14, 2019

Robert Jjuuko comments on the article “Impact beyond the tests: adult education that makes a real difference”

Standardised tests only tell half the story

Educationist, Researcher and Development Consultant, Uganda

In the article on Impact beyond the tests: adult education that makes a real difference, Chanel raises a very pertinent argument against any uncritical adoption of standardized tests.  In the context of adult education for PWDs, cautious administration of standardized tests is exceedingly important because they can easily perpetuate exclusion. In this brief comment, I extend the conversation on standardized tests beyond adult education for PWDs in North Carolina to all education interventions for young people and adults everywhere.

Standardized tests constantly struggle in vain to measure the whole range of intellectual, emotional, cognitive and behavioural changes that particular learning interventions cause in the lives of learners. They can only reveal just a portion of the whole, and indeed only tell half the story. Thinking about the inadequacies of standardized tests is to rethink the purpose of the education. Separating the two is part of the intellectual challenge that educators must address. 

Adult educators must possess the required critical awareness of the purpose of education systems and by extension constantly reflect on the agenda of standardized tests. Whether serving wealth communities in Europe and USA or in the neediest villages of Asia or Africa, we must be cognizant of the socio-political and economic forces that are steadily turning education of all types into real commodities in unregulated market places. 

In Uganda as elsewhere, examinations are increasingly serving as exclusion instruments to deny the poor and weak young citizens the opportunity to pursue meaningful education and employment transitions. While our society has been struggling to come to terms with utter negligence and refusal of public education stakeholders with state power and authority to make education systems serve every single citizen, the private sector is worse in the abuse of education service delivery and marketization of tests and examinations.

As educators and more-so those of us who subscribe to the emancipatory purpose of education we must rise up constantly to challenge the uncritical planning and delivery of education services. We must refuse the reliance on stand-alone examinations or standardized tests to determine the destiny of young people and adults in our education enterprises. 

Increasingly we should learn to circumvent the risk of relying on standard tests. As we do so, we need to hold in high esteem alternative assessment methods that attempt to provide learners with the opportunity to be ‘tested’ while continuing to learn. For instance, those teaching in colleges and universities, we need to desist from abusing the power of course work. In education settings, where work-related learning strategies such as internships are part of the delivery design, educators must champion the value of quality.  Above all while interacting with learners whether in the classrooms or auditoriums, educators need to be critically aware of the purpose of education in their context but within the entire social system. Standardized tests need to be interrogated within this broad frame of reference to challenge the tendencies to solely rely on them yet we generally agree that they tell half the story.  

Links to the AED 85/2018 publication in three languages: EnglishFrenchSpanish
Estos son los links para acceder a la publicación en tres idiomas: InglésFrancésEspañol
Voici les liens vers la publication en trois langues: Anglais FrançaisEspagnol

Para español favor usar google translator en los casos en que el artículo no está traducido al español

Veuillez utiliser google translator pour traduire les articles qui ne sont pas en français


  1. Saul Tumwine
    March 15, 2019

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    Like many students of whatever level, my general feeling about standardized tests is of fear. Tests create fear in many learners and they in my view really don’t reflect the degree of learning. A test may come when a learner has many issues that may hinder preparation for taking the test. What do tests measure? there are many dimensions of learning and tests often don’t measure all of them. As Robert mentions, some private providers of education have reduced learning to passing tests and examinations. This has bad implication for both learners and the employers. I have always asked why some students who come to university with ‘super results’ do not do well in discussions and tests at university. Learning shouldn’t be subjected to standardized tests as a measure of learning because tests may even discourage learning in some cases.

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