Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why Not a National Test for Everyone? Expanding Our View of the Potential for a National Test Could Help Us Identify Core Knowledge and Skills and Improve Our Ability to Fill the Gaps in Individual Knowledge

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why Not a National Test for Everyone? Expanding Our View of the Potential for a National Test Could Help Us Identify Core Knowledge and Skills and Improve Our Ability to Fill the Gaps in Individual Knowledge

Article excerpt

Another new movement is gaining momentum to craft "national" standards in mathematics, reading, and writing. Orchestrated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), these Common Core of Standards could possibly be implemented by all 50 states and serve as the basis of changes to curriculum and assessment. As might be expected, this effort is meeting with both praise and criticism (Cavanagh 2009). And, logically, of course, the development of national standards would lead to the development of national tests to measure these common standards.

Because the concept of a national test will very likely emerge from these efforts, I want to propose a more radical, and perhaps broader, vision of what this national test might resemble. I suggest that this national test be designed for "everyone": students, teachers, parents, and citizens of our democracy. This national test could be computer-adaptive, based on standards that span preschool to the Ph.D., set on a common scale and normed to provide average scores at various levels, and have both public and secure administrations. If we take mathematics as a starting point, everyone could have a personal national mathematics score. Students could compare their scores to their teachers and parents; workers could compare their scores to other workers and supervisors; and, conceivably, students in other nations could compare themselves to students in the United States.

Let me suggest an analogy. The United States Chess Federation has a national rating system that ranks all players, novices to grandmasters. Chess competitions have specific rules for how these ratings are determined. Every player is ranked on a common scale with set levels and criteria for definitions of "expert" and "master." Most computer chess programs have simulated scenarios that allow a player to determine his or her "rating" based on play versus the computer or solution of posed problems.

Could we not envision the same system for mathematics? Anyone could sign onto the Internet and be presented with "problems" in mathematics, with the difficulty of the problems adapting to the person's level of ability. After about 30 minutes of problem solving, anyone could see his or her "rating" and, perhaps, be given feedback on its interpretation and steps needed to increase the score. With a large enough item pool, the test could be taken at any time. With a division between a public area and a secure area, which I will explain later, this system could provide constant practice in the public area as well as the capacity to provide "accountability" results in the secure area. These "secure" scores could be used to make a myriad of decisions.

Imagine the scope of a national test that could be used to measure a student's knowledge from kindergarten through high school. The test could also be used to assess college readiness, serve as a college admissions to measure a person's ability as he or she proceeds through college, graduate work, and into a professional career. Furthermore, the test could be used for employment decisions in such areas as teacher certification and pre-employment screening. The nation would have a common "barometer" of mathematical ability. At one fell swoop, this test could replace all existing state K-12 assessments used under No Child Left Behind; all college barometer, and continue college admissions tests such as the SAT and ACT; all graduate and professional admissions tests like the GRE, GMAT, and PRAXIS; and entry-level employment measures that test mathematical ability.

Before I'm diagnosed with delusions of grandeur, let me outline the elements of such a system, how it could be constructed and put to use in a relatively brief period of time, and why it would be a practical solution to many educational dilemmas.

ELEMENTS OF A NATIONAL TEST

If mathematics is used as the initial domain for this national test, what standards could possibly be used that could span prekindergarten to graduate school? …

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