Testing Column

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Commercial test publishers last week launched a counterattack against their critics by holding a Washington press briefing to explode what they called myths about standardized achievement tests.

"The more they are repeated, they become conventional wisdom," said Michael H. Kean, director of public and governmental affairs for C.T.B./ Macmillan/McGraw-Hill and chairman of the test committee for the Association of American Publishers.

Among the impressions the publishers sought to counter were the ideas that multiple-choice tests could not measure students' critical-thinking skills and that standardized tests were biased against women and minorities.

But, they argued, standardized multiple-choice tests should not be the only way to measure student performance. The commercial publishers, they pointed out, have been getting into the business of designing alternative forms of assessment.

"No form of assessment, no matter how good, should be used in isolation," Mr. Kean said.

Researchers at Harvard University have begun a five-year project to test the use of portfolios as assessment tests in middle schools.

Funded by a $2.5-million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the project will follow students from two middle schools in each of four cities: San Diego, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and a fourth city to be named to study the feasibility and effects of the alternative method of assessment.

Unlike traditional tests, portfolios measure students' abilities on longer-range projects than traditional, timed tests permit. They also allow teachers to evaluate student growth over the course of a year.

Dennie Palmer Wolf, a senior research associate at Harvard's Project Zero and director of the portfolio project, said it would also study the role of portfolios in parent involvement in schools. "We'll see if portfolios become part of the discussions with parents over standards," she said.

To demonstrate how testing can help social-studies teachers "enhance learning in history and the social sciences and develop the skills necessary for participatory citizenship," the National Council for the Social Studies has prepared a policy statement on testing and evaluation.

The statement says that the tests should match the curriculum; that teachers should be skilled in interpreting and reporting test results; that assessments should include more than traditional multiple-choice tests; that testing should be fair to all students; and that teachers should be involved in the selection and design of evaluation instruments.--R.R.

Vol. 11, Issue 05, Page 10

Published in Print: October 2, 1991, as Testing Column
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