BOX 1–2 Rethinking the Best Ways to Assess Competence

Consider the following two assessment situations:

Assessment #1

Question: What was the date of the battle of the Spanish Armada?

Answer: 1588 [correct].

Question: What can you tell me about what this meant?

Answer: Not much. It was one of the dates I memorized for the exam. Want to hear the others?

Assessment #2

Question: What was the date of the battle of the Spanish Armada?

Answer: It must have been around 1590.

Question: Why do you say that?

Answer: I know the English began to settle in Virginia just after 1600, not sure of the exact date. They wouldn’t have dared start overseas explorations if Spain still had control of the seas. It would take a little while to get expeditions organized, so England must have gained naval supremacy somewhere in the late 1500s.

Most people would agree that the second student showed a better understanding of the Age of Colonization than the first, but too many examinations would assign the first student a better score. When assessing knowledge, one needs to understand how the student connects pieces of knowledge to one another. Once this is known, the teacher may want to improve the connections, showing the student how to expand his or her knowledge.

tual understanding over time, which is at the heart of learning. This limitation exists largely because most current modes of assessment lack an underlying theoretical framework of how student understanding in a content domain develops over the course of instruction, and predominant measurement methods are not designed to capture such growth.

A fourth and persistent set of concerns relates to fairness and equity. Much attention has been given to the issue of test bias, particularly whether differences occur in the performance of various groups for reasons that are irrelevant to the competency the test is intended to measure (Cole and Moss, 1993). Standardized tests items are subjected to judgmental and technical

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