Putting Virtual Assessments to the Test
With everyone from the nation’s top CEOs to President Obama stressing the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, learning in order to prepare students for a competitive 21st-century workforce, we need better measures of how well students are mastering those subjects. Science and other complex subjects are not served well by conventional testing; answering A, B, C, D, or “all of the above” doesn’t lend itself to measuring science proficiency, scientific thinking, or deeper knowledge and understanding.
While traditional paper-and-pencil testing gauges student knowledge on distinct facts or concepts, virtual performance assessments allow students to actually use scientific inquiry and problem-solving through interactions with their virtual environments. In a VPA, students, represented by computer-generated icons, or avatars, make a series of choices. They tackle authentic science problems, investigate causal factors, and choose which virtual experiments to conduct in a virtual lab. The assessment is no longer focused on a single right answer, but on the result of decisions and knowledge applied by the student. This approach allows a finer measure of students’ understanding and provides a truer assessment of what students know and don’t know about complex science content.
An exciting VPA model is being developed and tested by Jody Clarke-Midura and Christopher Dede at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with funding from the federal Institute of Education Sciences. The goal of the VPA project is to provide all states with a new model of statewide assessment in the form of valid technology-based performance assessments linked to the National Science Education Standards ...
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