Changing Standardized (State) Assessments

It’s no secret that I despise multiple choice exams.  I personally feel they do not adequately assess more than the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Again, I would like to see strong evidence that they are capable of more.

Using ideas from Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I agree with Pink’s assessment that if computers can do it, we should not be training students to do it.  We should, therefore, teach students to apply their understanding through application, analysis, evaluation, and creation.  I still do not have evidence that multiple choice exams can do this well.

Yes, my alternative is not cheap, but sticking with what we have (a broken system of standardized assessments, in my opinion) is worse.  Teaching toward a test that poorly assesses the true skills needed for the future means students are ill-equipped for life beyond high school.

So, from my experience in an International Baccalaureate (IB) high school, I propose this minimalistic solution.  Make the assessments more detailed and have the assessments graded by real teachers.  Have one-quarter of those exams moderated, and if the scores are too high or too low, the scores adjusted accordingly.  Then, have a portion of the moderated scores also moderated, to add another level of accountability.  This, in brief, is how the IB assesses its world schools.  In language classes, students have oral assessments.  In social studies classes, students take written, essay exams.  In science classes, students design a lab experiment based on given criteria.  I use these examples to show an international organization has, for over 40 years, assessed students with academic rigor and largely without multiple choice exams.  Yes, some of these exams do exist, but in Social Studies, with which I am certified and with which multiple choice exams are largely abused, the IB exams are all essay.

Yes, such a system takes more time and money to maintain (though, I’ve never seen the financials stacked up against Educational Testing Services’s payout to create new exams), I feel this system of exams is one that can accurately and authentically evaluate students.  It is a system of exams that demand high academic rigor and higher-order thinking.  I do not think public educators should continue teaching to a sub-standard assessment system.  If we stand together and demand more, perhaps we can change the system.

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2 thoughts on “Changing Standardized (State) Assessments

  1. Sam Jaffe August 13, 2012 / 4:51 pm

    As easy and less time consuming the multiple choice method may be, I wholeheartedly agree with this. The knowledge produced from actual evaluation (as opposed to filling out bubbles for dates and events soon to be forgotten the following year) is far worth the effort in attaining that knowledge.

    • Justin Staub, Ed.D. August 13, 2012 / 5:35 pm

      For other readers, Sam is another student from the STEM Academy, advocating for LESS multiple choice exams. Though not easier, as Sam would probably attest, stronger assessments provide more valuable feedback to educational stakeholders.

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