June 18, 2019 | Blog

Opening New Doors For Enriching Classroom Assessment

Hear from Dick Ferguson, MZD’s Chairman of the Board:

Having been a high school math teacher, a research psychologist in a major university learning research and development center, and the head of one of the nation’s largest testing companies, my career in education has spanned more than 50 years. Over the years, I came to recognize both the benefits and the shortcomings of assessments typically used to measure students’ progress at the district, state and national levels.

During my lifetime, the advent of optical scanning machines has made it possible to score large numbers of tests accurately and efficiently, enabling educators and the public to gauge students’ progress regularly throughout their school years. While that mode of educational testing continues to serve an important need, more recent applications of technology in educational assessment have made it both affordable and desirable to incorporate performance based testing along with multiple choice testing in student assessments. Why should our schools take this approach?

As educators, we recognize the end goals for students as they move year-to-year through our schools. Even as we champion love of learning as one of those goals, we recognize that we are also helping students become ready for their next level of education and eventually a place in the workforce. Accomplishing those “readiness” goals for our students is, I believe, best accomplished by a blended approach to assessment. Although optical scanning technology revolutionized testing, it also facilitated a “one size fits all” approach to measurement. Like Procrustes of old, who in Greek mythology either stretched his victims legs or cut them off to fit precisely in his bed, machine scorable multiple choice tests often limit what is measured to what the item type permits. The appeal of multiple choice tests lie in their ease of administration, scoring and reporting, and their low cost compared to other options.

While those attributes are important, they have caused us to settle for measures of knowledge and skills that are at least one step removed from the manner in which students will encounter those skills in their future schooling and eventually their place of work. Future employers, for example, are unlikely to provide the employee with four or five potential solutions to a problem, hoping that the right one will be chosen.

MZD’s use of state-of-the-art technology to administer and score performance-based assessments offers school districts an alternative to traditional measures. The MZD platforms enable assessments that can easily be incorporated into a district’s assessment programs. And they have the distinct advantage of enabling measurements that require students to perform actual tasks while minimizing the effects of guessing, common to multiple-choice tests. Using MZD’s platform to combine the two testing formats opens previously closed doors for testing that is both teacher friendly and student relevant, enriching the process and improving outcomes.