When Is School Choice a Bad Choice?

With Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education, it is a sure bet that school choice initiatives will be at the top of national school reform efforts in the coming years. DeVos, a longtime  advocate for alternatives to traditional public schools — including charter schools, vouchers, education savings accounts, online schools, and other ideas — will no doubt support President Trump’s plan to direct $20 billion a year away from traditional public schools and towards school choice prog...
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Why Are Standardized Tests So Boring?: A Sensitive Subject

It is a guiding principle in test development that stimulus materials and test questions should not upset test-takers. Much like dinner conversation with in-laws, tests should refrain from referencing religion, or sex, or race, or politics --  anything that might provoke a heightened emotional response that could interfere with test-takers’ ability to give their best effort. Attention to “sensitivity” concerns, as they’re known, makes sense conceptually. But in practice, as they shape act...
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Is the ACT a Valid Test?

ACT, Inc. released the results of its 2016 National Curriculum Survey earlier this year. The Survey goes out every three or four years to elementary, middle school, high school, and college teachers, as well as to workforce professionals. It collects information about what respondents are teaching, how they teach it, what they care about, and so forth. It serves as the basis upon which ACT builds its tests. Because the Survey provides a look into both what pre-college students are being t...
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College As Culture Shock

The standards-based education reform movement, kicked off by A Nation At Risk in 1983, has been around long enough now to start showing results, if it’s going to. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence that this path is leading anywhere good. The latest Nation’s Report Card, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing, shows that twelfth graders in 2015 weren’t any more ready for college than were twelfth-graders in 2012.  Likewise, students in 2012 didn’t make pro...
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Authentic Learning Requires Authentic Assessment

If project-based learning were to form the core of curricula in American schools, our problems with large-scale standardized testing would become even more pronounced than they are now. This is not a reason to forego project-based learning, of course; rather, it's a reason to find a better way to test. We do need, and will continue to need, large-scale assessments, despite the many dissatisfactions we may have with them at present. Local assessment by itself doesn’t tell us what we need ...
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Function Follows Form

The problems with standardized tests lie less with the content they cover than with their very form – which drives their content and everything else about them. The tests have looked pretty much the way they do ever since the fifties – a bunch of kids all in the same place, bubbling in answers to the same questions, under the same strict time limits, under the watchful gaze of a roving proctor. Replicate across district, state, nation, world. The tests took this form not because it is ...
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Welcome to the Sausage Factory

I used to work for ACT, Inc., designing and developing student assessments. In my final years there, I was Director of the Writing and Communications Literacies group. I and two of my most-valued colleagues were the team responsible for the revamped ACT Writing Test. So, if you have any questions about it, let me know. The longer I worked at ACT, the more disillusioned I became with the organization -- and with conventional standardized testing as a force in education. The tests my group ...
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