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The Future of K-12 Assessment

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Many educators view standardized testing as a necessary evil of the improvement process. More cynical educators view it as a completely useless process that is never a true indicator of what students actually know. Proponents of K-12 assessments say that without them, there is no adequate way to enforce educator accountability.

Love it or hate it, K-12 standardized testing is not going away. It is just changing.

The No Child Left Behind Act uses standardized testing results to determine progress and outline areas for improvement in K-12 schools. This standards-based approach to education reform has often been attacked for its disconnection with what kids should really know and what they are simply required to regurgitate for the sake of a test.

The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education released a report in March that outlined steps needed to make K-12 assessments vehicles "providing timely and valuable information" to both students and educators. Among the recommendations made by the 30-member commission was a permanent council to evaluate standardized testing be created. The report also calls for a 10-year research study intended to strengthen "the capacity of the U.S. assessment enterprise." The Gordon Commission Report admits that the assessments of the future are not yet in existence but that their creation needs to begin now.

Commission chairman Dr. Edmund W. Gordon said:

"Technologies have empowered individuals in multiple ways -- enabling them to express themselves, gather information easily, make informed choices, and organize themselves into networks for a variety of purposes. New assessments -- both external and internal to classroom use -- must fit into this landscape of the future."

Based on the report, and what we know as educators, what do future standardized tests need to include to be successful in an increasingly digital classroom?

• More assessment of HOW to obtain knowledge. Dr. Gordon touched on this point when he mentioned access to information and networking. There is more information available than can ever possibly be processed, so the way that this and future generations of students make informed decisions matters more than ever. Assessments of the future will need to ask more questions about the how of knowledge and not just focus on the what.

• Higher levels of digital access. All facets of education are being impacted by the rapid evolution of technology and assessments are not immune. Not only should educators be able to tap into digital resources for assessment preparation, but students should be able to take assessments using the technology that makes them most comfortable. Filling in bubbles with number two pencils needs to become an assessment relic, replaced by convenient, streamlined technology options.

• More critical thinking options. This goes hand-in-hand with how to obtain knowledge, but takes it a step further. Everyone can agree that applied knowledge is crucial to the learning process so standardized tests need to do better when measuring it. Every child needs to be able to articulate what he or she knows, not just repeat it.

Assessments in K-12 learning are sure to change in the next five years, and beyond, in order to adapt to changing classrooms. There will never be a perfect formula for assessment, but educators should never tire trying to make standardized testing as applicable and helpful as possible.

What changes would you like to see in K-12 assessments?


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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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