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Authentic Assessment and Portfolios
I’m a big fan of Grant Wiggins, so I was excited to see he was the author of our first article for this week! I’ve been thinking a ton about “standards based assessment” lately, so it’s interesting to read this article from 1989 to see how long the thinking has been around. I loved many of the ideas in this article, but wonder, 25 years later, are we any closer to this? Is this what the common core is attempting to move towards? (I know almost nothing about the common core.) It was bizarre to read about the ACT’s COMP test, which looks so awesome. Over the weekend I may take a look to see what became of it. I’d never heard of it. I do wonder though if tests like this, which used “art reproductions and audiotapes of news programs, for example in testing writing and listening” (Wiggins 45) ran the risk of being too culturally biased. I would think they would run into that problem…
In any case, there are two questions that came up for me while reading. As I said above, I’ve been really interested in standards based assessments for some time. And I’m wondering how synonymous this is with the idea of core competencies. Valencia College, to which the CCCs often look for ideas, has this amazing set of core competencies that they work to help their students develop. I would really like for the CCCs to develop something similar, but I recently had a friend voice a concern that with a competencies-based model, students can essentially “test out” because they may be able to meet the competency when they walk in the door. I’m not sure what to say about this. On the one hand, I really like the idea that “instead of seat time or the mere accrual of Carnegie units, the diploma is performance based and criterion referenced” (Wiggins 45). But does this mean that some students could just walk in and get an AA by completing a standards-based assessment? (An AA equivalent of the GED?) I’m not sure how I feel about this… The other concern that the article raised for me was that at two points, it referred to students’ “intellectual ability.” The use of the word “ability” bothers me here. I wonder if this is just 1989 language that seems very outdated today, but the idea of “ability’ sounds to me like a fixed thing that is not a result of work and learning, but of innate ability. Semantics or not, this is actually an issue that can’t be overlooked. What do we do about the student who has worked hard but is unable to pass a standards-based assessment? This is tricky. Do I believe in social promotion, no. But at the same time, students are going to have strengths and weaknesses. If they cannot graduate without meeting certain competency levels in all areas, do we keep some students from ever being able to graduate?
For example, I have a good friend who has a visual processing learning disability. Were it not for the foreign language requirement being waived, she would not have graduated from middle school, let alone college. So what does this mean for our students who excel in some areas but will always struggle in others? Does a non-standards-based system allow for more flexibility in this regard? More acknowledging of hard work and effort? Might this be the reason not to so quickly dismiss the “‘A’ in ‘English’ [that] means only that some adult thought the student’s work was excellent” (46)? “Compared to what or to whom?” Well, maybe compared to where they started? I don’t know. I do believe in standards, but I still struggle around these issues. Wiggins seems to sidestep them and also overlooks the potential for significant biases when using performance-based assessment. I’m not saying standardized testing avoids bias; we know that it doesn’t; nor do teacher’s arbitrary grades. I do think though that these issues must be further explored.
Wiggins, “Teaching to the (Authentic) Test” (1989)