`THERE are 36 sheep and 10 goats on a ship. What's the age of the
When this question is inserted in the middle of a standardized
multiple-choice test, a majority of schoolchildren ignore the
correct answer ("none of the above"). Instead they add the two
numbers and answer 46. They have been taught that when you see the
word "and" in a word problem, you add.
"They're being perfectly reasonable within the framework that
their schooling gives them," says Monty Neill, associate director of
FairTest, an advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass. "You're really not
supposed to think about the problems because they don't mean
anything. You're just supposed to quickly figure out the rule and
In the midst of a nationwide interest in school reform and
restructuring, states and educators are being forced to rethink
testing and assessment methods. Multiple-choice tests, such as
the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), have long been under attack and
the current shift in educational goals suggests that more
sophisticated measurements are necessary.
The controversy was underscored earlier this month when Education
Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos released the annual state-by-state
performance report known as the "wall chart." The report card was
released despite objections from the White House, officials
President Bush and the state governors met last September and
outlined a 10-year program of reform for primary and secondary
schools. Many educators suggest that a new yardstick is required to
assess progress toward these goals.
"You can't go very much into school reform and school
restructuring ... without tackling the problem of assessment," says
Grant Wiggins, director of research for Consultants on Learning,
Assessment, and School Structure (CLASS) in Rochester, N.Y.
In the process of revamping curricula, a number of states across
the United States have begun to experiment with innovative testing
methods. These alternative measurements - often called
"performance-based testing" - take a variety of forms:
- California now uses open-ended problems as part of its
mathematics test for 12th-graders and is piloting new testing in
English, science, and history.
- Connecticut is introducing hands-on math and science testing
for high schoolers.
- New York requires all 4th-graders to conduct a science test
and report the results.
- Vermont is developing a program to include student work
portfolios with standardized tests.
Some other states have plans to move away from multiple-choice
testing to more authentic forms of testing.
For example, Kentucky, which is in the process of restructuring
its schools, is aiming for performance-based testing across the
grades by 1995.
Writing assessment has been the most readily adopted addition to
multiple-choice testing. As many as 30 states now include essay
writing of some sort in their testing programs.
"I think it's no accident that much of the work has been fueled
by the success of local, and regional, and state writing projects,
which easily led to developing writing assessments," says Mr.
While the quality and character of the various writing assessment
programs vary greatly, the willingness to adopt such a practice
suggests that administrators are willing to break away from strictly
standardized, impersonal testing.
"Over the last 15 to 20 years we've simply become addicted to
test scores," says Rexford Brown, director of communications at the
Education Commission of the States in Denver. He calls for
"reeducation" of the public and school officials on the issue.
"There's been a myth in this country that important evaluation
should not involve human judgment," says CLASS's Wiggins. …