Authentic Assessments in a Technologically Enriched World

Will Richardson (Twitter and blog):

With few exceptions, all the things our children are using to connect and learn outside the classroom — social media, cell phones, Internet connections — are banned inside classrooms. In my kids’ case (and they have more access than many), school is the only place in their lives where they can’t use the technology they carry around in their pockets and backpacks to answer questions.

The only place. Why is that?

via for the love of learning: Richardson: Rethink Assessment.

There’s no one answer to Will’s question, of course. I believe it lies in our (i.e., adults’) fear of technology, lack of privacy as well as any control over students’ online behavior, fear that schools will be drawn into these debates unnecessarily and become mired in legal quandaries, and just as relevant and important, lack of adult engagement and understanding of the power of online networks. I have, so far, presented on building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) four times – twice at my school for administrators and interested teachers, once at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Fellowship for Aspiring Heads, and once for beginning teachers and their mentors at a regional association conference. I’ve also blogged and presented here and here on using Twitter for professional development and expanding one’s network to include colleagues outside the four walls of our schools. Change begins with each one of us.

Back to Will Richardson:

Remaking assessment starts with this: stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google search. Or, if you have to ask them, let kids use their technology to answer them. More often than not, we ask questions that can be easily answered by technology. That is unfortunate…Our tests are loaded with questions whose answers almost everyone is guaranteed to forget as soon as the test is over.

Can any of your teachers or schools counter Will’s assessment of the anachronistic practices that dominate our classrooms?

Will offers “open-network testing” as a more authentic, real-life alternative (I’ve written about, as well as presented on this topic before at a regional association conference):

Instead, let’s make sure that at least some of the questions we ask our students on assessments require them to tap into the vast storehouses of information that reside online as well as the networks of people who can help them sort out the answers.

In other words, let’s scrap open-book tests, zoom past open-phone tests asking Googleable questions, and advance to open-network tests that measure not just how well kids answer a question, but also how literate they are at discerning good information from bad and tapping into the experts and networks that can inform those answers. This is how they’ll take the real-life information and knowledge tests that come their way, and it would tell us much more about our children’s preparedness for a world of data abundance.

Let’s also shift our assessments of students’ mastery to ones that examine mastery in action [my italics]. Performance-based assessments, where students actually have to do something with what they know, tell us volumes more about their readiness for life than bubble sheets or contrived essays.

Another educator whose work I admire, Jonathan Martin (Twitter and blog), first introduced me to open-network testing and its relevance in a technologically enriched world. In Jonathan’s words, “Our rationale is that our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems, and we that know nearly every envision able such environment, they will have laptops or other mobile, web-connected, digital tools to address those problems. Let’s assess their understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.”

To me, the arguments presented by both Will and Jonathan are compelling and difficult to simply read and move on. Several years ago as the International Baccalaureate Coordinator and Middle School Humanities Teacher at St. Alcuin Montessori School, I led a redesign of our assessment tools using the Wiggins and McTighe backwards design model. Borrowing from Ted Sizer’s seminal work in Horace’s Compromise, we called our end of trimester assessments, “Exhibitions of Mastery,” to indicate to students, teachers, and parents that these won’t be standard assessments with fill in the blanks, true/false, and short answer questions, but rather performance tasks that would call upon a student’s ability to analyze and synthesize information and apply it to authentic, real-life circumstances. Last spring, I challenged my 8th grade teachers to consider this approach of open-network testing when designing their final exams.

Change is hard. But it’s time we looked at our own lives in the mirror as adults and asked how many times we have been given the kind of tests as adults that we design for our students. If the answer is rarely or never, then our obligation is clear and the argument for change simple.



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