Friday, February 18, 2011

Limits of Twentieth Century Assessments

I have a heightened gag reflex when it comes to select a response assessments. Because Multiple choice, true/false, matching and fill in the blank assessments place a kind of thinking handcuffs on learners in the name of quantifiability, I don't use them. Ever.

I find it disturbingly odd that such assessments continue to coexist with the understanding we have for how magnificently messy real learning really is.

I think that is why I love this quote from Cathy Davidson:

One reason item-response testing (the twentieth-centurys dominant method of testing) is so deficient is that it tends to reduce what we teach to content (especially in the human, social, and natural sciences) or calculation (in the computational sciences). Think of the myriad ways of knowing, making, playing, imagining, and thinking that are not encompassed by content or calculation.


  1. My name is Dana Johnson and I am a EDM310 student at University of South Alabama and I agree with you about the assessments due to experiences myself I use to love those types of assessments until I finally got in a teachers class that did not use them. I came to realize that knowing that you do not have that type of assessment will make students study more and become more focused, well I know that is what happen in my situation so I really agree.

  2. I was helping a colleague set up the voting response devices for her ActivBoard. She asked be if I liked them. I responded that I explored them out of curiosity and discarded them as an expensive and unwieldy assessment tool. There is some benefit to anonymous feedback methods. It might encourage shy students to take a chance. But there are easier ways to do it.

    What I disliked was the opportunity to turn every teaching moment into a multiple choice. If I wanted to, I could design elaborate tests and track student responses on the computer. It would take less time to mark a test by hand... unless I used the same test bank year after year. I can imagine what you would say about that.

  3. I agree to a point. Without question, the short-answer style questions have been overused for decades and don't go beyond the initial knowledge level learning. Trying to evaluate higher level thinking with MC/T-F is absurd.

    However, I think in a balanced assessment system there is a place for short-answer questions. If you are trying to determine whether students have mastered the necessary terminology in science, math, or SS, I think these short-answer type questions are the most efficient and effective way to do it. We wouldn't use a performance rubric to assess if the students understand the vocabulary definitions for the astrology unit. Beyond that, however, they lose their applicability and relevance. This is not a ringing endorsement for 200 MC questions, etc.

    Effective assessment matches the intended learning targets with the most efficient and effective assessment methods. There is a place for short answer - albeit a small place - and we have to know the limits of what we are assessing. I don't think it is so much about tossing MC as it is ramping up our authentic assessments that get to the heart of the higher level learning we are seeking for our students.

    For me it's about balance and quality assessment and not determining ahead of time that one method is always wrong.

  4. I am a teacher from Australia, currently studying and working in teacher ed in the USA and I cannot believe how popular multiple choice testing is in your schools. What is wrong with you people?


Follow by Email