tests, such as the Renaissance Learning Star Reading Test (http://www.renlearn.com/starreading/), are being used in some K–12 settings. Some firms (e.g., Microsoft) are also using adaptive testing to certify an individual’s product knowledge.
Rather than presenting a series of test items, even items adapted to an individual’s responses, assessments might be improved by immersing the test taker in simulations of real-life situations. This idea is particularly appealing for assessments of technological literacy, which necessarily emphasize capability and critical thinking and decision making, in addition to basic knowledge.
With simulated environments, performance and competence can be assessed in situations that cannot be attempted in the real world. Aircraft can be crashed, bridges can be tested with heavy loads, expensive equipment can be ruined, and lives can be risked in simulated environments in ways that would be impractical, or unthinkable, in the real world. Simulated environments can also make the invisible visible, compress or expand time, and repeatedly reproduce events, situations, and decision points.
The military has long used simulations to assess the readiness of individuals and groups for military operations (Andrews and Bell, 2000; Fletcher, 1999; Fletcher and Chatelier, 2000; Pohlman and Fletcher, 1999). Industry also uses simulation-based assessments for everything from device maintenance and social role-playing to planning marketing campaigns (Aldrich, 2004). In formal education, simulations and computer-based modeling are being investigated as tools for improving learning in biology, chemistry, and physics (e.g., Concord Consortium, 2005; TELS, 2005; Thinkertools, 2005).
Simulation can be used in a variety of ways: (1) in design, to describe the behavior of a system that does not yet exist; (2) in analysis, to describe the behavior of an existing system under various operating conditions; (3) in training, to shape the behavior of individuals and groups and prepare them for situations they may encounter on the job; and (4) in entertainment, to provide computer games (Smith, 2000). The quality of a simulation depends on its purpose—the question(s) it is expected to answer—and the accuracy with which it represents system components that are relevant to this purpose.