Forget the Test; We Need Real-time Performance Assessment

Test is a four letter word. Test often subverts the real goals of instruction. IMHO, test should be stricken from the lexicon of learning and teaching. Here’s why:

Tests are standard protocols for measuring and comparing student achievement (usually as norm- or criterion-referenced). A test is a quick and easy method to query a large group of individuals. That’s all good, but there’s a bad dimension, too. Tests are frequently used as high-stakes benchmarks for student grades and teacher performance. But learning science research shows that most tests measure short-term knowledge recall rather than an enduring understanding of the material.

You remember how it works, don’t you? You’d cram for the test and then forget it by the next week. I haven’t forgotten the feeling of that experience, but I have forgotten most of the things I crammed.

Instead of test results, students and teachers alike need substantive performance feedback. That is, mechanisms for meaningful insights into student learning gains, student strengths and needs, student passions, and student misconceptions.

With ample data collection and analysis of ongoing performance measures, we can enable diagnostic and prescriptive instructional interventions. Diagnostic and prescriptive sound like medical protocols used in doctor-patient interactions. We need to apply similar scientific methods to teacher-student interactions.

Herein is the great potential of “learning analytics.”

The ability to embed performance assessment and feedback into most learning activities can completely change how we use assessment benchmarks. Rather than periodic assessment points, learning is continuously monitored and recorded to properly inform on a student’s “current learning state.”

With new and promising educational technologies such as the Learning Dashboard project at Carnegie Mellon University and the Learning Catalytics project at Harvard, instructors and students can view real-time performance data. It is now possible to integrate assessment and feedback into many online and classroom-based learning activities.

Such feedback loops can greatly enhance learning and performance acceleration – and amelioration. Real-time systems can help teachers address individual and group needs, as well as support students’ own metacognition and self-regulation.

We’re experimenting with learning analytics at Enspire Learning. As we make progress — or regress — with technological integration and system implementations, we’ll share the answers with you.