Should Personalized Learning Replace Testing?
Over the last several years, standardized testing in the United States has increased dramatically. These tests are intended to objectively measure student achievement and ensure that teachers and schools are held accountable.
Still, many argue that standardized testing has become excessive. A 2015 study found that the typical American student is required to take 112 standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade. Meanwhile, students in most countries that outperform the United States on international exams are tested just three times during their school careers.
Critics of standardized testing argue that the tests put too much pressure on students and take the joy out of both teaching and learning. Plus, the value of all this testing is questionable. Studies have found that many standardized tests are low quality or redundant (high school students may take an AP, end-of-course, and final exam for the same course).
So how can we measure student learning without resorting to high pressure testing? Some point to personalized learning as the solution.
What Is Personalized Learning?
The philosophy behind personalized learning is that a “one size fits all” curriculum can’t possibly meet the widely varied needs of a diverse learning population.
Personalized learning models allow students to move at their own pace and pursue their own interests, taking into account individual strengths and weaknesses. In the digital age, these models are highly dependent on technology. Software and online programs provide targeted instruction based on individual student performance data.
While some teachers are thrilled about personalized learning, others aren’t so sure. Critics say that these learning models make schools too dependent on technology, reducing educators to the role of facilitators.
Can Personalized Learning Replace Testing?
Pros and cons of personalized learning aside, should personalized learning replace testing?
At least one testing manufacturer, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is already looking into incorporating aspects of personalized learning into their tests. The company wants to design adaptive tests that are more interactive and responsive to students.
In partnership with Game Lab, ETS has prototyped a Pokémon-style game that asks students to build robots, then make their robots stronger with strong arguments, adding claims and counter-claims to on-screen text. In the future, such activities may be part of the tests ETS produces.
Of course, these personalized, game-based assessments are still in their infancy. Other alternatives that align with personalized learning include performance-based assessments, portfolios, skill surveys, and inspections, or a combination of these ideas.
Personalized learning is by definition unstandardized, which raises questions of equity and fairness when it comes to testing. Others argue that unstandardized testing is fair: Intelligence and learning themselves are not standardized, so assessment shouldn’t be either.
Students should have varied opportunities to demonstrate their varied interests, strengths, and learning styles. However, making this type of assessment a reality is complicated.
In the near future, we may see less standardized testing for students. But fully replacing standardized testing with personalized learning, despite the fact that it’s a promising idea, is unlikely to happen any time soon.