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...
More

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...
More

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...
More

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 ...
More

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 ...
More