New Tests Should Reflect Innovation, Reformers Argue

By Catherine Gewertz — June 30, 2011 1 min read
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You’ve read lots here about the new tests that are being designed for the common standards. (Remember? Think $360 million in federal Race to the Top money, and two big consortia of states designing “common assessments”.) You’ve also read here about the white papers, open letters and such that various folks have circulated to influence the design of those assessments. (A couple of examples here and here.)

To that stream we add another one today. It’s an open letter organized by some of those who have been pushing hard for education to reshape itself to take advantage of advances in digital technology. Among them are Innosight Institute’s‘s Michael Horn, OpenEd Solution‘s Tom Vander Ark, and Doug Levin of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

The letter, published online today, argues that the assessment consortia must push some innovation boundaries to produce new tests that lend themselves to new types of school models and student learning, and do much better at capturing authentic learning than the tests states have been using. The organizers have posted the letter as a Google document, so more people can sign it easily.

The sentiments in the letter had long been brewing among edu-innovator types, but were catalyzed when those folks met to talk at Harvard about a month ago. That’s when the idea of circulating the letter took shape, Vander Ark tells me.

There was some conversation about the ideas at a recent charter schools conference too, with some of the assessment consortia folks in attendance. Vander Ark’s take on that conversation is captured in a blog post, where he worries that the consortia will end up building “super Swiss army knife” tests that basically replicate the status quo, and end up homogenizing students’ education instead of helping bring about what he calls “an uncommon curriculum” that embraces the personalization made possible through educational technology.

This letter carries some interesting, high-profile signatories, including Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, known for the positive value he places on “disruption” in education, Stanford education professor Terry Moe, and a host of other business, tech, philanthropy and public-education folks.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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