For all the energy and attention they demand, educators are pushing to marginalize exams. These are not just dying out as an irrelevance; they are being killed off as an affront to human nature and dignity. Alberta is a leader in this, deciding this month, to give less weight to standardized exams and more to daily work. Ontario is following, with a pilot project for a new model of evaluation informed by the view high-stress exams give a false picture of a student's abilities. There is evidence the slow death of exams is not simply a sympathetic response to quivering students, but to a new science around cognition which suggests the traditional high-stress, all-or-nothing final exam may not be an accurate measure of learning.
Stressful exams rob us of our limited ability to pay attention to what we need to. It is comparable to why driving and talking on a cellphone is bad. the worries associated with performance under pressure soak up the resources that we could be using to focus on a test, says Sian Beilock, a neuroscientist who heads the Human Performance Lab at the University of Chicago.
Performance under stress can be traumatic for many students. Ironically, those most likely to fail in demanding situations are those, who, in the absence of pressure, have the greatest capacity of success.