If you’re one of the many, many people who think high-stakes American testing needs some work…well, you might be surprised at some of the possible solutions we’re coming up with. Hint: It’s video games.

Some even say that games could eventually eliminate the need for testing.

But don’t jump the gun; testing is still important. We have to have some way of monitoring where kids are in the curriculum—whether they’re “getting” it or might need some extra help. The testing needs to be standardized because we want all our kids to have the same opportunities. A lot of complicated issues are at play here—does our current standardization benefit only kids with certain learning proclivities? Do our standards match better with the wealthiest kids, while leaving out kids with diverse economic and cultural backgrounds? Is the very act of testing ensuring that our schools exist only to make sure kids can pass the tests?

These are legitimate problems, and there’s no simple answer. Let’s make that clear. This is something we’ve been struggling with—and not just Americans, but societies all around the world—for decades,  if not centuries. So what can video games bring to the table? Jordan Shapiro discusses the possibilities.

One of the coolest things about video games is that they allow kids to fail. If you didn’t beat the bad guy this time, just try again. You’ll have some new insight, and you can go at it again—and again, and again, and again. And somehow it’s still fun. Most of the time you don’t know how to play before you’ve started; you learn as you go, and by the end of the game, you’ve become at the very least proficient, because how else would you have gotten to the end? Video games make processes, rather than factoids, the focus. They teach you how to learn.

In other words, learning and assessment take place at the same time. You can’t progress to the next step without figuring out the first one. Most teachers will tell you that they’re not fond of spending as much (or more) time assessing whether the thing has been learned as they spend helping students to learn it. With games and other software, the data is being collected in real time and presented to the teacher (and often the student, as well). Some software actually adapts to learners based on their performance. These processes can be extremely complex, and they’ve been shown to work.

As Shapiro notes, games aren’t exactly replacing tests—rather, they’re making tests obsolete.

He does offer one caveat. When students are being tracked on such a minuscule level from grade school onward, that gives somebody access to a large and valuable cache of information about those students. Shapiro warns parents and educators to check out the terms of service thoroughly before using learning apps and games, particularly free ones; if you’re not paying in money, you may be paying in data.

That being said, it’s too soon to be really concerned. The world is changing quickly, and it’s important to keep up. Exercising a healthy amount of caution is good, but don’t overlook the amazing potential that games have for helping kids learn and grow. Oh, and lest we forget—all of this? It applies to adults too!


This article was written by

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.