Special Report

May/June 2012 Grand Test Auto

The end of testing.

By Bill Tucker

One glimpse of this future can be found at School of One, a personalized learning program in New York City that was named one of Time magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2009.” School of One is an experiment not only in technology-based lessons and assessments but also in competency-based student progress. If a seventh grader is working at a fourth-grade level, instructors focus unapologetically on fourth-grade material—attempting to ensure that, as the student progresses, he has really developed the right fundamental understanding going forward. It’s a big adjustment for teachers and parents, but students respond in striking ways. Joel Rose, former School of One CEO and now co-founder of New Classrooms, says that when students see that assessment results are used, in real time, to help them learn, then their entire relationship with testing changes—so much so that they often naturally draw their own clear distinction between the one-shot “tests” that they face in other classes and ongoing “assessments.”

The coming revolution in stealth assessment is not without potential dangers, pitfalls, and unintended consequences. If students perceive that the constant monitoring is meant primarily to judge them, rather than help them improve, then they may be less likely to experiment or take risks with their learning. Worse still, it’s conceivable that teachers would just find new ways to teach to the test, focusing their instruction on how to beat a computerized assessment algorithm rather than how to solve a challenging physics problem.

Eric Klopfer, director of MIT ’s Education Arcade and a proponent of stealth assessment, warns against a superficial “gamification” of learning. Just as in traditional classrooms, where the use of gold stars and special awards is only as sound as the underlying relationships among students and teachers, adding game-like rewards to educational lessons only works if the game itself is rewarding. If you give students a reward for things they don’t want to do, Klopfer says, then students stop doing those things as soon as the reward stops. It takes good instruction to challenge and engage learners. The best intrinsic motivation isn’t a flashy game, Klopfer says, but “success through meaningful accomplishments.”

Still, stealth assessments are at a very early stage in their development, having yet to be proven in a large scale trial. Their drawbacks, kinks, and breakthroughs will no doubt become far more clear—and perhaps more manageable—over time. Numerous big experiments are on their way. As Popovic works on Refractions—which has been played by more than 100,000 people at this point—he’s also building the equivalent of an open-source plat -form to accelerate others’ efforts, in hopes of shaving off the time it takes to develop games with embedded assessment from scratch. Ultimately, his goal is to crowdsource designs for new games and assessment challenges from both educators and students. Dynamic Learning Maps, a consortium of thirteen states that was awarded $22 million in federal funding to develop new assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities, plans to embed items and tasks in day-to-day instruction to map a student’s learning over the course of a year. Klopfer just received a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a massively multiplayer online game to help high school students learn math and biology. And Pearson, the giant education publisher, led a $33 million investment in Knewton. It’s hard to tell, but at this pace it’s conceivable that the sit-down-stop-everything-else test may, within the decade, seem as old-fashioned as counting tubes of toothpaste on a supermarket shelf.

Bill Tucker ,since 2005 the managing direc tor of Education Sector, a D.C .-based think tank , will soon be joining the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as deputy director, policy development, U. S. Program. He has written about education technology, innovation, and policy for publications including Education Next, Education Week, and Educational Leadership.

Comments

  • Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. on May 09, 2012 2:42 PM:

    PREDICTION from a neurologist who then became a teacher (2nd, 5th, 7th) and now does professional development: Within five years in some countries (five to ten in others) open internet access for information acquisition will be available on standardized tests. This access will significantly reduce the quantity of data designated for rote memorization.

    The Current Information Load Is Too BIG
    Recall that before 1994 a student would be expelled from the SAT exams for bringing any type of calculator. Starting in 1994, calculators were not only permitted, but were essentially required. The driving factors came from the level of mathematics taught and tested and the availability of graphing calculator technology. This change gave students the appropriate tool for accuracy and efficiency (and the one used by most professionals who used mathematics beyond basic arithmetic). Consider also, that calculator access for these standardized tests did not reduce the instruction in and development of arithmetic automaticity. Mental access, of such facts and procedures as the multiplication tables and manipulation of fractions, without a calculator remains a valued goal for all students.
    We are now in the same nexus of advancement of information and technology to make the equivalent jump for other subjects. Access to the internet for information acquisition during tests (and learning) is the appropriate response now, just as the calculator access was in mathematics almost two decades ago.
    As technology and globalization exponentially increase the available facts and knowledge base of all subjects and professions, the response in education has been to incorporate more and more information into the requirements for each school year. The current system of - if its information � teach it and test it - can no longer support the volume of information. Textbooks cannot get much bigger and the impact of the increasing demands on students to memorize data is increasingly counterproductive.
    In the "real world�, professionals in all specialties and businesses use the superiority of the web over the human brain to accurately hold and retrieve facts and to keep up as �facts� change too quickly for even eBooks to be current and accurate by the time they are released.
    Many practicing physicians do not rely memory, or even textbooks or the latest journals for the most current, accurate information about diagnostic testing, best treatments, and other facts that change daily. For example, before prescribing a medication, the Medscape or Epocrates websites are searched for the most current facts that could have significant impact on a patient�s reactions to the medication. Even for a medication that has been evaluated for cross reactions with other medications when it was tested and when the FDA product information was most recently reported, new information can be critical. That medication could have just been found to cause problems when taken by patients also taking a different medication for another medical condition. Thanks to the physician having access to that new information before prescribing medications, the risk of potential complications is reduced.

    Memorization Breaking Point
    Boredom, frustration, negativity, apathy, self-doubt and the behavioral manifestations of these brain stressors the have increased in the past decade. As facts increase, over-packed curriculum expands, and demands for rote memorization for high stakes testing, the brains of our students have reacted to the increased stress. High stress, including that provoked by sustained or frequent boredom or frustration, detours brain processing away from the higher, rational, prefrontal cortex. In the stress state, the lower, reactive brain is in control. Retrievable memory is not formed and behavioral responses are limited to involuntary fight/flight/freeze � seen in

  • Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. on May 09, 2012 2:48 PM:

    COMPLETION OF PREVIOUS BLOG - PREDICTION FROM NEUROLOGIST/TEACHER Judy Willis www.RADTeach.com

    Memorization Breaking Point
    Boredom, frustration, negativity, apathy, self-doubt and the behavioral manifestations of these brain stressors the have increased in the past decade. As facts increase, over-packed curriculum expands, and demands for rote memorization for high stakes testing, the brains of our students have reacted to the increased stress. High stress, including that provoked by sustained or frequent boredom or frustration, detours brain processing away from the higher, rational, prefrontal cortex. In the stress state, the lower, reactive brain is in control. Retrievable memory is not formed and behavioral responses are limited to involuntary fight/flight/freeze seen in the classroom as act-out, zone-out, or drop out.

    Students Don't Get the Brains They Need
    Even if the medical, social, psychological, and ethical problems do not promote the change in testing, the economic demands as to what employers want as employee skill sets will inevitably topple the factory model of education.
    The factory model of memorization of facts and procedures that was preparation for assembly line work cannot keep up with the information age requirements for an educated workforce. With the growing in the information base, employers in global industries that develop new products or systems already report they are more interested in a potential employees' abilities to respond quickly and successfully to frequent change, and to communicate, lead, and collaborate, than they are in their like work experience. Desirable employees are those capable of making use of new information and technology to solve new problems and innovate ahead of the competition.
    The lives our students will live and the jobs for which they'll compete will not be about answering questions correctly, but about how they use knowledge and respond to changes. Yet currently the time sacrificed to fact memorization and test prep is resulting in more high school dropouts and students graduating from the secondary system without the preparation to succeed in college, employment, or to lead fulfilling lives.

    Freedom
    Freedom from excessive rote fact memorization focus means teachers can be creative individually and as professional learning communities. There will be reduction of the "management" problems that currently result from stressed-brain reactive behavior. Educators will be able to develop and use more engaging, relevant, and equitable learning experiences enhancing cross-curricular skills and competences. More access to foundational facts, which are not equally acquired by some students with language or learning differences, will mean they are not held back from applying other strengths to build conceptual knowledge and understanding. as students are guided with learning opportunities that develop their executive functions they will develop understanding beyond just knowing. Their extended their neural networks will empower them transfer knowledge to new applications as we help them build the brains to achieve their greatest creative potentials.

    Read Complete Comment in my upcoming staff blog for EDUTOPIA.org Education's Next Big Bang May 11. WEBSITE www.RADTeach.com

  • skeptonomist on June 07, 2012 10:34 AM:

    What might actually be done to evaluate student performance is largely irrelevant, because the current testing regime has been imposed for largely ulterior motives - the desire to break teacher's unions, cut down on expenses, prove that public schools are inferior and allow higher-income people to send their children to private schools without paying school taxes, etc. Thus the support for real improvements in teaching is actually limited, especially as funds are being choked off for public schools. For-profit schools are generally not going to spend a lot of money on novel methods.