Worth Reading

K-12 Testing

Phi Delta Kappan continues to publish many valuable articles on assessment. The May 1999 issue includes a section on "The Uses and Limits of Performance Assessment." Most valuable is Linda Mabry's "Writing to the Rubric," which criticizes the lingering effects of traditional testing on writing assessment, particularly through the use of rubrics (scoring guides for evaluating exam responses and papers). She argues these limit assessment and harm learning by fostering formulaic writing. She concludes, "(I)t is a problem of construct validity -- testing not the construct of writing but the construct of compliance to the rubric... (W)e need to reconsider our mania for making test-based comparisons that demand standardization."


The other articles in the series provide useful insights into the development and use of performance exams, but often suffer from reducing performance assessment to just exams, rather than also considering classroom-based assessments. And when classroom-based assessments, such as Vermont's portfolio program, are considered, they are given short shrift, often relying on limited and out-of-date information. Available at P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402; $4.90 + $3 processing; Mabry's article and the section introduction by Elliot Eisner are on the web at www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kappan.htm.


One Size Fits Few is the insightful title of Susan Ohanians study of The Folly of Educational Standards. Tracing the development of the standards and testing approach to school reform and the forces behind it, she offers a detailed and often powerful critique of this approach. Most effective is her dissection of California's actual standards. For example, she reports, grade 8 students are to "analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of civilizations of Islam in the middle ages, of China in the middle ages, of the Sub-Saharan civilizations, of Japan in the middle ages, of Europe in the middle ages, of mesoamerican and Andean civilizations." Unfortunately, these sorts of completely impossible requirements pervade state and national standards. Ohanian also forcefully questions the economic rationale often given for the standards approach. Available from Heinemann, 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, NH 03801; 800/793-2154; www.heinemann.com; $16.


"Human abilities," writes Robert Sternberg in the April 1998 Educational Researcher, "are forms of developing expertise." Thus, measures of ability, including IQ tests, are simply time- bound measures of some kind(s) of developing expertise, rather than measures of the ability to develop expertise. The article is thus a good critical overview of ability testing. Sternberg calls for shifting from educational practice grounded in traditional ability conceptions, as exemplified in relationships between IQ and achievement tests, with "practice grounded in the development of knowledge-based expertise in all children." Such practice will require, among other things, use of diverse kinds of assessments.