Testy About Testing

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Without assessment, teaching and learning would beperilously haphazard. But some modifications are inorder to ensure that the process serves all students.

Christina C. SchallerIN THIS MONTH'S FEATURE STORY on assessment (see "Special Consideration"), writer Neal Starkman points out ways that traditionaltesting fails unconventional learners. He explores how accommodationssuch as technology tools and alternative methodologies are beingdesigned and implemented to reach more students.

I'm glad to hear schools are making such personalized efforts to find out what students are capable of, instead of settling for one measure to determine every child's abilities or potential. I'm all for the attitude that the purpose of testing is to fine-tune teaching, not to pressure students unduly.

I'm also gratified to hear that districts nationwide are focusing on formative assessment and adjusting curriculum on the fly, rather than waiting for summative test results before taking corrective action. In addition, I'm encouraged by the efforts of groups such as the nonprofit Co-Intelligence Institute, which advocates for recognition and fostering of different types of intelligence, and, of course, the work of the leader in defining multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Gardner initially identified seven types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The first two are generally associated with school subjects and skills; the others may be important in life but are not considered relevant in schools.

I'm sure more students would excel and enjoy learning if traditional subjects were frequently tied into activities that exercise multiple intelligences and clearly demonstrate applications of theories and concepts in the real world. Perhaps a speed chess tournament could replace a written math test, or a mock conflict mediation could replace essay questions on a social studies exam.

I get particularly fired up about assessment. As a student, I was afflicted with, in today's parlance, test anxiety. When a test didn't matter, I would ace it. Case in point, the PSATs. But when the SATs rolled around, I tanked. So, truly, I feel for kids who do not shine when compelled to pencil in bubbles or demonstrate years' worth of knowledge in a baby blue booklet. Here's to those who are figuring out how to draw out the best from folks like us.

- Christina C. Schaller, Managing Editor

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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