How is testing used in a Montessori school?

Montessori teachers carefully observe their students at work.  They give their students informal, individual oral exams or have the children demonstrate what they have learned by either teaching a lesson to another child or by giving a formal presentation.    The students also take and prepare their own written tests to administer to their friends.  Montessori children usually don’t think of assessment techniques as tests so much as challenges. 

Students are normally working toward mastery rather than a standard letter grade scheme.  At MSW, mastery means understanding and using concepts at 80% accuracy.  Because each child is working at his or her own pace in multi-age classes, achieving mastery varies widely.  No student is recognized as first or last; the child who quickly achieves mastery is able to move on immediately to other concepts, and the child whose understanding of a concept takes longer is also a normal classroom participant.

At MSW, elementary students receive quizzes on certain concepts and skills they have been studying.  Good teachers, who work with the same children for three years in multi-age classrooms, carefully observe their work and know far more than any standardized test can reveal.   The ultimate problem with standardized tests is that they are often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and poorly used to pressure teachers and students to perform at higher standards. 

Adapted from “The Montessori Way,” by Tim Seldin & Paul Epstein Ph.D., published by the Montessori Foundation, 2006.

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