Friday, January 25, 2013

Zip a Dee Doo Dah, or Go, Team!

As I work my way through the list of 10 Reasons Why Assessments Make the World a Better Place, I realize that this list is more of a grab bag of opinions festooned here and there by ribbons of fact than an argument resting on a solid platform constructed of actual information. (Not that there's anything wrong with that; what else are most blog posts than someone's opinion? I myself have got lots and lots of opinions.)

Which means I am silly for engaging in intellectual discourse about what is essentially an attempt to look on the bright side from deep in the trenches of a beleaguered and much-maligned profession. 

But once I've begun, I must onward go, silly or not. Let's address Reasons 2 through 10 from 10 Reasons Why Assessments Make the World a Better Place by John Kleeman:

2. Assessments make the world safer. 
Absolutely. No doubt about it. Certification and licensure are very reassuring, whether applied to doctors, nurses, mechanics, electrical engineers or dog trainers.

3. Assessments are the best way to measure knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
They're the only way, aren't they? If by "assessments," we mean "measurements," and assessments may include the use of observation and other tools beyond the isolated pen-and-paper or online experience.

4. Assessments are the cornerstone of learning
Not so sure about this one. Remember what Trollope said. How many modes of learning are taken into account? Which work best for which student?

And it would really depend on the assessment, how it was administered, how the results were interpreted and used, and whether instruction were subsequently guided by those results. 

5. Assessments  reduce forgetting. 
I believe I read something about this somewhere, but I didn't take a test on it and now I've quite forgotten what the article said, except for the bit about how you remember more if you are tested on it. 

6. Assessments are one of the few ways to be sure people really understand.
Subset of Reasons #3 and 4, and that is only if the assessments are solidly aligned with the curriculum.

7. Assessments give objective data. 
This is what they are intended to do. If the assessments are sound, constructed according to best practices, and free of obstacles such as cultural and other bias, we hope to obtain objective data after administering assessments.

8. Assessments define standards. 
Not so sure about this one, either. Often item review committees define and redefine standards. Sometimes individual item writers creatively define standards, and their work of a moment forms the template that is followed forever after. Assessments should define standards.

As an assessment content developer, I sometimes find myself stretching my brain until it snaps to find some logical way to target a skill that simply isn't assessable with a multiple-choice question. I know that it is not assessable, and yet I must do it, because that is the assignment. Am I defining the standard? I may very well be, but were I officially responsible for defining the standard, I'd approach it differently, perhaps starting off by working directly with groups of kindergarteners to obtain a baseline for what they actually are capable of doing and then burying myself in the library in order to see what people who spend their lives studying the developing minds of kindergarteners say about it.

9. Passing an assessment makes people feel good about themselves.
That's nice, isn't it.

Although I only feel good about myself when I absolutely and totally crush an assessment. 100% is what makes me feel happy, but we all have different standards, see Reason #8. A quiz will follow.

10. Online assessments give access for all.
I guess so, if a computer is made available to everyone.

And that's a wrap.

As ridiculous as I may seem in taking seriously what we can assume from the unbalanced and cheerleaderly perspective is most likely intended as marketing literature (using the term "literature" loosely because you know I am persnickety and Victorian in my literary aesthetics). But in a world when all of us are duped constantly and relentlessly, there is tremendous value in distinguishing between fact and propaganda.

By the way and just for fun, this blog post aligns to the following Common Core Standards:

UPDATE: Corrected a typo, ah me, but that's no guarantee you won't find another.

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