Friday, October 7, 2011


They will be computer-based, Mr. Duncan said, and will measure higher-order skills ignored by the multiple-choice exams used in nearly every state, including students’ ability to read complex texts, synthesize information and do research projects.

“The use of smarter technology in assessments,” Mr. Duncan said, “makes it possible to assess students by asking them to design products of experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests and record data.”

In performance-based tasks, which are increasingly common in tests administered by the military and in other fields, students are given a problem — they could be told, for example, to pretend they are a mayor who needs to reduce a city’s pollution — and must sift through a portfolio of tools and write analytically about how they would use them to solve the problem. [this paragraph is an example of a copyrighted text used without attribution, by the way].

The tests are being redesigned to assess the common academic standards in English and math that nearly 40 states have adopted in recent months.  

U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given

It is only me - or is there a disconnect here between the CCSS ELA standards and the above test descriptions? 
  1. Problem-solving is not an ELA measured standard, unless the teacher is like me and every reading and writing challenge is a problem to be solved.  How many times does the word "problem" appear in the ELA Common Core standards? 
  2. Preparation is an issue - even in a STEM-Humanities interdisciplinary curriculum, how many students experience the cross-over of thinking, production, literacy skills required by this assessment model?  Project-based learning is still not ingrained in most ELA curricula.  This may be for a good reason.  It tends, for one thing, to be very personal responses, rather than very analytical.  When ELA teachers do projects, they are not generally working toward analysis (e.g. the very trendy Illuminated Texts). 
  3. Pretending is disappearing from writing workshop and writing assignments, or it will if teachers adhere strictly to the underlying tone of the CCSS. Where do students learn empathetic reading in analysis exercises?  
  4. Do we only read only in order to research and solve problems? Do we read only complex texts? Readicide.
  5. Are we ready to view education as a preparation for "life in a pressure-cooker" - requiring fast response to and analysis of incoming data?  Great literature is all about TIME.
  6. And what happened to the word creativenow the top level in Bloom?  Creating is different from solving problems. 
It is a fact of educational life that test structures drive instruction, especially with merit pay a looming possibility.  Is this the testing structure we want to drive ELA for the next so-many-years?  This dialogue is going in the wrong direction.  Arne Duncan should be asking: What are ELA teachers doing that works and how can what works be incorporated into successful assessments? 

Is anyone else thinking about this disconnect?

I hope so.  If you have the chance, speak up about assessment pilots!

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