Low Road #9: how about low-stakes testing?


What would happen if we reduced the stakes in testing?

We certainly have the technology and the knowledge to make all testing formative with the explicit objective of identifying additional KSAs needed to do well (enough) in target contexts. Focus could then shift from the infrequent high stakes, winner/ loser decision making into an array of issues that we are not attending to well enough at present. Things like the full range of KSAs needed in target contexts, not just the easy to measure cognitive command of written materials. Changing the focus and reducing the emotional pressure will also reduce gaming and cheating on high stakes testing. Being clear about KSAs needed in target contexts will improve the relevancy of the testing and make test-takers' motivation congruent with doing well in their target next steps. They need no longer spotlight just passing tests or checking off competencies.

Focus on a good fit into the target context will also force test developers and educators to pay attention to the details of those target contexts. There are nuanced differences related to culture, language, justice and heritage inherent in the target situations: the people (e.g. the patients, parents, students, and colleagues), the physical settings (e.g. the type, amount of relevant support material; quality, convenience and suitability of infrastructure) and the social setting (e.g. safety, displacement, famine, dependence).

All these features (and more) affect the KSAs required for competent performance in specific contexts. Right now these are mostly ignored in favor of a "baseline" concept of minimally acceptable competencies. Kind of like a least common denominator definition of competence. People pass those minimal competencies as measured in the high-stakes testing situations and are then are expected to learn everything else relevant to their target context on the job. At best that is inefficient. It can also be dangerous while the newbie inevitably makes errors trying to figure out what to do in the new context. Some never do figure it out before their frustrations push them out. These are resources lost to the context for lack of fitting preparation. We can do better.

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