Sunday, January 4, 2015

No Such Thing as an 'Objective Test'

“Every act of measurement loses more information than it gains, closing the box irretrievable and forever on other potentials.” Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science

The problem with accountability and testing lies within a single assumption: “that which is the most important content to be learned can be reduced to a single test or be captured in a test question.” If life were a dance between a, b, c, or d, then standardized tests could capture the essence of learning, and we could be satisfied that a correct or incorrect answer on multiple-choice questions actually tell us whether substantial and important learning has taken place. Sadly though, nothing worth while or lasting can be reduced to that level of simplicity.

As Wheatley points out, when observations, in this case tests, are created, choices are made as to what is to be tested and what is to be ignored. That ‘subjective choice’ reflects all manner of value judgments and decisions regarding importance. Hence, the very ‘subjective nature’ of tests like those being administered is questionable. The observation choices made by those who write the very questions on tests reflect their own subjective choices regarding importance. That’s why no standardized tests are ultimately entirely objective. As Wheatley points out, “Every observation is preceded by a choice about what to observe.” The person who makes those choices are exercising their subjective opinion regarding that is worthwhile to learning and what is most important.

To claim that state standardized tests or any standardized tests are “subjective” masks this fact: these tests reflect the subjective judgment of those whose wrote and designed them. It is simply their opinion regarding what is valuable enough to be tested. Next time someone throws the term “objective measures” or “objective testing” at you, remember this. The quest for ultimate objectivity in testing is a fool’s errand.

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