Letters To The Editor
Although I agree with the overall conclusions presented in your article "Competency Tests Linked to Decline in Analytic Skills" (Education Week, Dec. 8, 1982), I must take issue with Leo Ruth, [professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley], when he says, "Multiple-choice questions test only the lowest-level skills."
Once again testing has been criticized due to misunderstanding and misuse of the technique employed. Even introductory college courses in ''tests and measures" present multiple-choice questions as the most versatile and useful type of items when they are correctly written. A qualified test-item writer is able to produce multiple-choice questions that require the student to think at the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of reasoning skills.
The multiple-choice format also allows more information to be presented in a manner that will not be influenced during evaluation procedures by the vagueness of the question(s) asked, illegible handwriting, evaluator bias, a vague keying system, or evaluator fatigue, as is the case with essay questions. Contrary to popular belief, an essay question is usually the least effective type of test item, due to the problems encountered in both its development and evaluation.
The problem, then, is not necessarily with the multiple-choice format, but with the misuse of this format through poorly constructed test items that emphasize rote learning. It would behoove educators to look closely at the test-writing skills of those who are responsible for designing appropriate test items before criticizing the format being used.
Beverly L. Dexter Associate Professor Lynchburg College Lynchburg, Va.