The Future of Testing

Given how much the rest of education has changed since the middle of the 20th century, it’s remarkable that the model of large-scale student assessment we have today still looks pretty much the way it did back in the nineteen-fifties: a group of kids under careful watch, lined up in rows of seats in a rigidly controlled space, all asked the same questions, each silently bubbling in answer sheets under the same strict time limits. To be sure, new technologies have been incorporated into st...
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A Place for the Humanities in the Digital Age

In the 1950s, C. P. Snow famously argued that academia had separated into two cultures — the sciences and the humanities — with no commerce between them. As both a novelist and a scientist himself, Snow shuttled between the two worlds, and lamented that they did not combine forces to solve problems neither was equipped to address on its own. In our time, a separation between the sciences and the humanities is asserted on practical grounds: economic life is dominated by technology, which r...
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At the Intersection of Creativity and Critical Thinking

Creativity and critical thinking sit atop most lists of skills crucial for success in the 21st century. They represent two of the “Four Cs” in  P21’s learning framework (the other two being communication and collaboration), and they rank second and third on the World Economic Forum’s top ten list of skills workers will need most in the year 2020 (complex problem solving ranks first). The various lists of 21st-century skills grant creativity and critical thinking such prominence in part be...
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Integrating Cognitive, Social, and Personal Competencies

Educators have come increasingly to recognize that student success depends on more than content knowledge and skills alone. After all, learning is unavoidably fraught with setbacks and discouragements, so personal traits, like “grit” and “growth mindset,” are needed if students are to keep at it. Likewise, the pursuit of an education doesn’t take place in isolation but in concert with others — so social skills, such the ability to cooperate in a group setting, are vital for success as well — e...
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The School Choice Paradox: Competition vs. Monopoly

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently released a list of proposed priorities for her department’s competitive grants program. Number one is “Empowering Families to Choose a High-Quality Education that Meets Their Child’s Unique Needs.”  In other words—no surprise—school choice initiatives remain at the top of the Secretary’s agenda. DeVos’s argument for school choice, like most everyone else’s, hinges on a faith in competition to improve education. In an open marketplace full of ch...
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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? (Spoiler Alert: No.)

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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