Should the U.S. Make Standardized Tests Harder?

Mikhail Zinshteyn:

With opposition to the new Common Core State Standards and the assessments linked to them reaching a fever pitch, advocating for better tests seems like an unpopular proposition. But what if U.S. students took fewer tests that measured their ability to understand academic concepts far more deeply than current tests permit?

A growing chorus of scholars is calling for just that: fewer but harder tests that go beyond the standard multiple choice model, ones that ask students to answer open-ended questions, solve tougher problems, and interpret harder texts.

“We could get the benefits of higher-quality assessments and spend less than we’re spending today,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a leading professor of education at Stanford University, during a recent presentation. “We’re just not spending it in ways that are very optimal for promoting deeper learning.”

If the quality of tests are a reflection of how much students are expected to know, the standardized assessments of the No Child Left Behind era have missed the mark on measuring students’ ability to process complex knowledge, some research suggests. A recent RAND Corporation study of 17 state standardized tests found that 2 percent of the math questions and 21 percent of the English Language Arts questions assessed students on higher-order skills. Several other studies have come to similar conclusions.