[Tests] take time, the critics say, put students under pressure and, in the case of standardized testing, crowd out other educational priorities.
Henry L. Roediger
How Tests Make Us Smarter
New York Times, Sunday Review, July 18, 2014
Critics of standardized testing complain that tests create anxiety in students and take up instructional time. In this series of blogs, based on a white paper written by myself and Dr. Les Sewall, I have discussed how to help students develop the skills to pick up and remember information. These skills can be accomplished by placing content in the context of a real-life situation. Putting curricula information in a fun, situational format helps students pick up information (Blog 1: Situational Learning). Students remember information if they are tested using specific mental retrieval techniques (Blog 2: Assessment). I have also discussed how to lower student stress on exams by linking instruction with assessment (Blog 3: Students Under Pressure and Performance). What about the criticism of exams taking up curricular time?
The overarching theme of these blogs is that performance assessments are a great way to facilitate learning and memory retention. Performance assessments are also a great way to connect information across standards. Even if performance assessments are written as traditional constructed response items, they are unique in that they can cover several standards at the same time, which is essentially how content is taught in the classroom. It is probably a fallacy to state that one single standard covers only one piece of content. Not only could a performance assessment measure understanding across standards in a single content, it could measure understanding across multiple subjects.
Although schools are set up with classes where individual content is taught, the classes are not taught exclusive of other content areas. An English language arts (ELA) class may read a technical passage with math or science as the stimulus. However, the assessment is only ELA. Is the math or science content assessed? Why couldn’t we devise an exam that would measure ELA, math, and science? Yes, there are specific topics that are unique to each content area, but in everyday life they are not usually independent of each other.
As I have discussed, performance assessments naturally cross standards or content areas, allowing for simultaneous diagnosis of understanding at higher cognitive levels. It is plausible that an item inside of a performance assessment could measure a student’s understanding in ELA, mathematics, and science simultaneously. The entire performance assessment could cover multiple standards inside of each of the content areas.
Imagine a test made up of multiple performance assessments that could cover ELA, math, and science all at the same time. Instead of scheduling three content area exams each over multiple days, there was a single exam over a couple of days. This would certainly give more time for educational priorities.
Imagine that the test produces less stress on the student because the student is familiar with this format, has learned how to retrieve information, is engaged in the assessment, and can retrieve key content information more easily, which might possibly increase his test scores. Imagine this student being college and career ready since life is naturally cross-content.
Is life an educational priority?