Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Future of Testing

In her book, The Test, Anya Kamenetz outlines the possible future of assessments. While the book’s primary focus was on the shortcomings of standardized testing, Kamenetz provided a well-researched set of outcomes for the next generation of assessments.  

Organized into teams, Ms. Kamenetz associated four possible futures with different animals or objects. For example, the Robot team typifies a future where learning analytic software furnishes a passive, formative assessment of student progress. Similar in some ways to the Khan Academy and Knewton, this mastery-based learning model provides a continuous stream of information about student learning and actions associated with learning. The Robot team envisions an invisible, integrated assessment that allows the teacher and school administrators to know in real time how well students are learning. Think Big Data in education.

The Monkey team takes a different approach. Here the focus is on socio-emotional learning and the impact of grit, hope, and motivation on learning. This perspective seeks to quantify the intangibles associated with education in order to predict how likely learning is occurring. In this case, surveys are a common vehicle for gaining information. The information seeks to identify circumstances that influence learning with the presumption that conditions of learning have great influence.

The third group, the Butterfly team, espouses performance-based assessments as a strategy to measure student learning. Incorporating the 21st century skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration, this assessment future sees project-based learning and presentations as the method of monitoring student learning. Differentiated and individualized, this assessment future relies on rubrics to score learning. Therein lies its value in assessing those real world skills that matter in work and relationships by using specific criteria to determine levels of learning.

The Unicorn team presents a very different future. Game theory and authentic application of problem solving skills dominate an assessment future in which student learning is stealthily scored at a high level of detail. Likening this future to a high definition video compared to the current snapshot model of testing, Kamenetz acknowledges that such assessments are not available but their value will lie in measuring a student’s capacity for growth.

I believe each future holds an exciting potential in which a blend of options will occur. The current standardized testing system is changing. From paper-pencil to online assessments, the process will become more ongoing rather than an annual event. As analytics improve and become more ubiquitous, we will see an emphasis on formative assessments. The Robot team model will become common. Yet other measures, such as mindsets and essential skills and habits of the Monkey team will be of interest to strengthen the conditions of learning. A need to connect formal learning with real world applications bodes well for the use of performance-based tests that seek to evaluate a more rigorous presentation of learning. Watch for a multiple measure model that incorporates the essense of these three models.

In the end, the future of testing will continue to be based on its purpose. Are we focusing on student learning and adjusting learning opportunities or are we evaluating school systems to monitor the impact of school funding. Regardless, the need to know how well our students are learning will guide policy and actions. And who knows, one day a student’s game playing strategies may serve as a benchmark of a successful education.