Staff editorial: Restrictions on viewing graded tests undermine learning

February 24, 2010 — by Vijay Menon, Anoop Galivanche, Uttara Sivaram, Abhishek Venkataramana, and Jason Wu

n the interest of reusing test questions in the future, some teachers do not allow students to look their graded tests. As much as this decision benefits these teachers, who are often swamped with tests, homework and projects to grade, it undermines a key component of a good education: self-learning and reflection.

Tests provide teachers with a proven method of assessing a student’s mastery of subject material, but they also allow students to pinpoint their weaknesses and, consequently, to improve in these areas. A graded exam can reveal the concepts that students have mastered and, more importantly, those they haven’t.

In subjects such as math, where an understanding of material must be paired with adequate practice, failure to target these areas of weakness at the appropriate time can slow a student’s progress.

In fact, teachers who do not allow students to see their graded tests may be violating the basic education rights of students under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This decrees that graded papers, exams, quizzes and other assignments are considered part of the student’s educational record and must be returned to the student in a manner designed to maintain confidentiality.

And while students cringe from saying it in class—no test is invulnerable to machine or human error, the latter being a particularly contentious wedge between students and their teachers. Very often, a mistake has been made in the questions themselves, especially when the test is multiple-choice. Teachers may accidentally program the scantron to mark a correct answer as incorrect, and while this is an innocuous and easily-resolved mistake; locking tests away give these errors a particularly long life and shorten that of the average “grade-grubber”—who, at that point, will be prematurely graying from the stress of a bad grade.

It is the nightmare of every teacher to have to deal with these nervous students, who undoubtedly want to go over every single question missed. Pardon them. When their understanding of an entire course is reflected by one letter, you can bet that they will bite, scratch, and lunge for every point of every test.

Denying students from keeping a graded test is reasonable. To be sure, the creation of a school-wide, black-market would certainly ensue—smuggling old, graded tests would be the new cheating fad.

But seeing tests is far different from keeping them.

Many students in Saratoga High are complacent about their test grades—the score they get is the score they keep, and life goes on. But for the (arguable) majority of the school, reviewing a test is nearly as important as taking them. And while disclosing every test and quiz to students will surely be a headache for teachers who do not already have this policy, students are begging for this privilege.

Because a test is a terrible thing to waste.

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