A recent article in Forbes described the difficulty with which students today struggle to think for themselves, placing the blame on a culture of standardized testing and multiple-choice assessments. Peter Greene writes:
Whatever has gone wrong in education can be attributed to much more than the advent of standardized testing, but I think the author is definitely onto something here. The way we construct our assessments has short-term and long-term consequences: 1) in the short-term: it communicates to our students the outcome we expect from their lessons, and 2) in the long-term: it cumulatively trains students specific ways of thinking and encountering the world.
The difficulty, of course, is that the best assessments are typically the most difficult to grade. Even a computer can grade millions of multiple choice test without a problem, but it takes a skilled teacher to explain to a student how well he or she has expressed wisdom and virtue in a creative essay. It also takes a LOT more time, something teachers are typically running short on.
The multiple-choice worldview is pervasive. When my kids were preschool-age they'd sometimes watch a somewhat-lame-but-not-too-terribly-awful PBS show called Super Why! which was supposed to promote reading (the kids/superheroes would travel into fairy tales to learn lessons that would solve problems they were having). Then, as they try to figure out what to do next, the viewer was given a multiple choice question to answer about something that was happening. Grownups can't get away from it either. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (which I just discovered, after a quick Google search, is still on TV and in its 19th season) revolves around winning a million dollars by succeeding on...a high-stakes multiple-choice test.
As classical educators, how do we construct assessments for our students that help to train them to think? When are multiple-choice questions appropriate? (And how do those of us who teach a large number of students every day, or homeschooling moms with dozens of other responsibilities, find time to grade them?)