What’s Wrong With the US Testing Regime?

The easiest explanation is to spell “PARCC” backwards. But Diane Ravitch has an excellent guest post that I strongly recommend on the topic, by Bob Shepherd. Here are a few quotes, explaining just one aspect of what’s wrong with the brand-new tests being imposed on US schoolchildren today:

“The test formats are inappropriate.

 ” First, the tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and EBSR). These item types are most appropriate for testing very low-level skills (e.g., recall of factual detail). However, on these tests, such item formats are pressed into a kind of service for which they are, generally, not appropriate. They are used to test “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted. The test makers, these days, all insist on answer choices all being plausible. Well, what does plausible mean? Well, at a minimum, plausible means “reasonable.” So, the questions are supposed to deal with higher-order thinking, and the wrong answers are all supposed to be plausible, so the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky, all because the “experts” who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments–that objective question formats are generally not great for testing higher-order thinking, for example.

“For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or [else there is] more than one answer that is correct, or [else] the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.

 “Second, at the early grades, the tests end up being as much a test of keyboarding skills as of attainment in ELA. The online testing format is entirely inappropriate for most third graders.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. keyboarding…Students trying to create an essay on paper is daunting, try typing it as you are creating it. Better yet, try responding to an open ended question that requires text info and you have no idea how to return to the text. RIDICULOUS! Why are we doing this to our children and our teachers. We can’t win this battle and yet again we will be blamed for everyone slipping through the cracks….


  2. The Shepard article is misleading.

    There is no relationship between “higher-order thinking” and test item format. Look at a practice test for the Law School Admission Test, any Graduate Record Exam, an SAT or an ACT for verification. Multiple-choice, or other types of constrained format test items can test most levels and types of thinking. They are not good at testing highly subjective topics, such as art, ergo the art portfolio. The question is: do we want objective evaluation in the core subjects, or subjective evaluation in the core subjects?

    In this context, the word “plausible” is used by test developers to mean answers that would be reasonable to test-takers who misunderstand a single aspect of a multi-aspect test item and so might think a particular wrong answer is plausible.

    There is no question that tests are being misused when they are given to students with no consequences — who knows if they even try; and studies show that the level of effort on no-stakes exams varies by age, gender, and socioeconomic class — and used to decide the employment status of teachers. But, to denigrate testing itself because some misguided persons misuse it is itself misguided.

    Richard P. Phelps


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