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

By SAM DILLON NY Times

Standardized exams — the multiple-choice, bubble tests in math and reading that have played a growing role in American public education in recent years — are being overhauled.

Over the next four years, two groups of states, 44 in all, will get $330 million to work with hundreds of university professors and testing experts to design a series of new assessments that officials say will look very different from those in use today.

The new tests, which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described in a speech in Virginia on Thursday, are to be ready for the 2014-15 school year.

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.”

Because the new tests will be computerized and will be administered several times throughout the school year, they are expected to provide faster feedback to teachers than the current tests about what students are learning and what might need to be retaught.

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It is about time that the education community steps ups and finds a better way to assess student learning. For years educators have complained about the narrow focus of standardized tests, but we have been unable to propose a scalable alternative. I look forward to the implementation of standardized performance-based tasks that will challenge students to use their higher-order thinking skills and provide educators with essential information needed to improve teaching and learning. While I know it will take years to accomplish this feat, it is a much needed step in the right direction.

Once we've improved the tools to assess student learning, next on the list of much needed school reforms will be to find an effective way to measure the success of individual schools. Even the best standardized student assessment tools do not capture the full picture a successful school. In fact a number of factors, student achievement, teacher added-value, extra-curricular opportunities and participation, etc... would need to be combined to create a final grade of school success. The creation and implementation of these much needed tools would provide the education community with the objective feedback needed to support ongoing improvement and to create a culture where schools don't stop at 'good enough' and instead strive to be best they can be.

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