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Inquiry as Obfuscation

Posted By: William Brown on June 9, 2004
Whenever one sees the terms "inquiry" and "assessment" in close juxtaposition, one can be fairly certain that there will be a lot of words put forward with no clear meaning to those who are faced daily with the task of developing methods for determining whether or not students are learning enough in school to be able to function in a literate society.
This article is no exception.
Whereas those of us with suspected "behaviorist perspectives" are assigned the task of measuring adequate yearly progress, we are constantly being maligned for failing to take into account constructivist and cognitivist perspectives in our work. This appears to be a "red herring" that is designed more to stop us in our work than to provide meaningful assistance in improving the situation.
If I want to know how many students in a school are able to read, write and perform essential mathematical computations, it is difficult to improve on the simplicity and efficiency of a good multiple choice test. If I want to know if a student can construct a complex theory based on quantum mechanics, the options become more restrictive.
Large scale assessment is not purported to be able to determine whether or not students can construct anything or perform complex tasks. They are designed to assess whether or not the student has acquired the foundational skills to be able to participate meaningfully in further education and eventually in society.
I suspect that many (if not most) classroom teachers are not equipped to engage in inquiry and constructivist approaches to assess deeper learnings among their students. If they can become adept at such activities, then they will no doubt be able to go beyond the foundational testing used in large-scale assessment programs.
Implementing inquiry as assessment (or vice versa) is most likely too great a challenge for even the most adept test developers. Fortunately, such skills are not necessary for finding out if students can perform the minimal reading, writing and mathematical operations to be assessed as functionally literate.
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 Inquiry as Obfuscation by William Brown on June 9, 2004
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