Friday, February 1, 2013

Is there ever one right answer?

Lately I've noticed the nature of assessment has received a bit of attention in newspapers, blogs, and editorials.

Recent posts like this say things like this:

So let us look at multiple-choice questions in this light. More than anything else, when a multiple-choice question is given to a student in hopes of measuring how well he or she understands something, it manufacturers the illusion of right and wrong, a binary condition that ignores the endlessly fluid nature of information.

It alters the tone of learning, shifting it away from a constant process of reconciling old thinking with new data, and toward something of a pitch-and-fetch scenario. One question, four answers, and only one of them is right.

So what am I to make of these conversations?

Is there no "right answer" ever to a test?

Is every answer "right" based on a person's own perceptions and logic?

I think there are right answers. I think that to suggest to students that in a person's professional life there will never come a time when you have to decide between choice A and choice B is the wrong message to give.

Learning is a constant process of balancing new and old information. But at some point a decision is made, an answer is chosen.

Having said that I want to emphasize that standardized tests should not be the only way we evaluate student achievement. I am not advocating for a "standardized test only" policy for measuring student achievement. Teacher input is critical. Performance based measures should be used. To use testing jargon - formative assessments need to be part of the mix.

However, tests that focus on one right answer should not be eliminated. These tests need to be understood in context. They should be one part of a larger tapestry when we discuss student achievement.

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