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Testing: Tidbits From Los Angeles

From Guest Blogger Stephen Sawchuk

As you may have read from my regular blog, Teacher Beat, I'm out in Los Angeles at the Council of Chief State School Officers' annual conference on student assessment.

This year, eschewing a formal keynote panel, the organizers decided to do something different—a parody of the TV program "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" (You may recall that Georgia Superintendent Kathy Cox won gobs of cash on this program last year and donated the money to schools in her state.) This time, a testing official from Indiana was in the hot seat, helped by a panel of students from a local elementary school.

They did pretty well overall, but one of the harder questions elicited some interesting reactions from the people at my table. The question asked the participants to identify a pair of salad tongs as which simple machine—a lever, a pulley, or a wedge.

"That's a culturally biased item," said a woman next to me, only half joking. Another man wondered if the item was aligned to California science content standards.

That's what I find so fascinating about the issue of educational testing. At its core, it is concerned not just with the measurement of what a student knows and can do, but also with this tricky philosophical issue: How can you be sure that the construct you've created to compute that measurement is valid? In other words, how can you be sure that a test is really measuring what it's supposed to be measuring?

Testing, it turns out, is a thinking person's enterprise. I hope to bring you lots of interesting tidbits about student testing from the conference that will get you exercising your own little gray cells.

(The answer—which I would have gotten wrong, by the way—is a lever.)

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