Wednesday, September 22, 2010

scientifically tested tests

NYTimes | AS children, teachers and parents sprint, slink or stumble into the new school year, they also find themselves laboring once again in the shadow of standardized tests. That is a real shame, given that there are few indications that the multiple-choice format of a typical test, in which students are quizzed on the specific formulas and bits of information they have memorized that year, actually measures what we need to know about children’s education.

There is also scant evidence that these tests encourage teachers to become better at helping individual children; in fact, some studies show that the tests protect bad teachers by hiding their lack of skill behind narrow goals and rigid scripts. And there are hardly any data to suggest that punishing schools with low test scores and rewarding schools with high ones improves anything. The only notable feature of our current approach is that these tests are relatively easy to administer to every child in every school, easy to score and easy to understand. But expediency should not be our main priority when it comes to schools.

Instead, we should come up with assessments that truly measure the qualities of well-educated children: the ability to understand what they read; an interest in using books to gain knowledge; the capacity to know when a problem calls for mathematics and quantification; the agility to move from concrete examples to abstract principles and back again; the ability to think about a situation in several different ways; and a dynamic working knowledge of the society in which they live.

This task is not as difficult as one might think. In recent years, psychologists have found ways to measure things as subtle as the forces that govern our moral choices and the thought processes that underlie unconscious stereotyping. And many promising techniques already used by child development experts could provide a starting point for improving school assessments.