Assessment in the Age of Innovation
Within the past 50 years, we’ve seen our country move from an industrial economy to an information-based economy. Now, early in the 21st century, it appears we are shifting to an innovation-based economy, one that requires what the psychologist Robert J. Sternberg calls “successful intelligence,” a three-point foundation of analytical, practical, and creative skills. In other words, the measure of success in today’s economy is not just what you know, but how you use that to imagine new ways to get work done, solve problems, or create new knowledge. This innovation-based environment calls for substantially new forms of assessment, and therein lies a major hurdle for schools, especially American schools, trying to prepare students for this new century.
American students today are largely evaluated based on their factual knowledge. A recent study by Robert C. Pianta and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning found that the average 5th grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem-solving or reasoning. Our existing assessment system tends to reinforce rote instructional practices emphasizing the drilling of facts likely to be on a test, rather than problem-solving and reasoning strategies difficult to capture in multiple-choice test items.
If we look at the effectiveness of such practices, and benchmark our success against international competitors, the results are not promising. Test scores from the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which surveys 15-year-old schoolchildren in industrialized countries worldwide, show that, on average, U.S. students lag behind those in Europe and Asia in problem-solving skills in mathematics and science. Schools in Europe and Asia generally teach students how to apply knowledge to novel situations more successfully than do schools...
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