The future of assessment: the world demands authentic solutions (Guest Post)

By Marten Roorda

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At Comms Multilingual, we are very interested in the latest developments within the assessment and certification industries. To that end, we are asking industry experts to provide guest contributions to our blog, which we hope will be of interest to our community. This post was written by Marten Roorda, CEO of ACT, Inc.

Yogi Berra, an American baseball player legendary for his skill in his sport and his lack of skill with his language, reportedly said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Yogi knew a lot about baseball, but probably less about assessment. When it comes to our profession, I prefer William Gibson, who said: “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”

I cited Gibson, a pioneer in the literary subgenre of “cyberpunk,” during a recent presentation at the Association of Test Publishers conference in San Antonio. While Berra was amusing, Gibson was correct: With assessment, the future is here; it’s just a matter of time before we all start to live it.

Going back in time (not very long ago), a few words characterized most testing: fixed, cognitive, wait, artificial, and intrusive. What’s coming next? Better words, such as adaptive, holistic, real-time, authentic, and stealth.

There are plenty of other words we could use, but those will do for now.

Consider “fixed”: Most current testing is standardized, delivered on fixed forms. Even though all of us are different, tests are one-size-fits-all. That paradox alone should suggest a problem. Future testing, in contrast, will be personalized, with each test as unique as the person taking it. Computer-adaptive testing is getting us there, but right now CAT and related technologies are “just not very evenly distributed.” Hang on – it won’t be long.

Consider “cognitive”: Most assessments focus on language, mathematics, science, and other academic skills legitimized in the academic canon. Those skills are important, but they aren’t the only ones. Other holistic, social and emotional learning skills such as critical thinking, dependability, and self-awareness – each described in the ACT Holistic Framework (which we readily make available to all) – help paint a more textured picture.

Consider “wait”: A test given on a Monday whose results are provided a month later is less valuable than a test in the morning whose results are available at noon. Real-time results inform teachers, energize students, and add immediate value to the instructional process.

Consider “artificial”: Most testing is artificial. Students put aside all distractors (i.e., “real life”), take out Number 2 HB pencils, and provide responses to tightly defined items whose solutions can be presented in simple phrases that begin with A, B, or C (or D – “None of the above.”). The world demands authentic, and sometimes amorphous, solutions, and so should tests.

And last (for now), consider “intrusive”: Right now, tests intrude on teaching time. There’s the time to take the tests, the time to grade them, and the time to interpret and share the results with students and other stakeholders – not to mention the time students take to prepare for the tests (and to worry about them before and after).

If testing were done stealthily, integrated into the instructional process, “intrusive” could become “invisible,” “interactive,” and even “engaging.” Assessment could finally enhance learning in ways that have long been dreamed of, but never achieved – until now.

There are other word pairs that will soon define our psychometric past and future: alone vs. collaborative, accountable vs. actionable, unidirectional vs. multidimensional, closed book vs. open standard, flat files vs. data cubes, and exasperating vs. entertaining. The blogs almost write themselves!

With all due respect to Yogi, none of the predictions in this blog were particularly tough to make; I’ve been making them for years.

Only now, though, in deference to Mr. Gibson, is the reality of my predictions becoming more evenly distributed.

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