Worries over Literacy December 27, 2005Posted by Michael McVey in Assessment, Information.
In a Washington Post article on the declining reading scores of college students came the following excellent line:
“What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels,” . . . added Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of education statistics.
So why are scores of graduates declining? After years of testing in elementary, middle, and high school with an eye toward someday having scores good enough to get into university, the participants may have simply grown jaundiced and disinterested in participated in reading tests. Furthermore, why are we even bothering to test the ability of graduate students to read labels?
It is interesting that Schneider mentions label-reading. To my recollection, this was the major rationalization for the creation of reading tests in the first place. Newspapers were awash with horror stories of people not able to read simple labels in supermarkets and high school graduates who could not fill out application forms.
Scheider also mentions the impact of the computer. He said, “It may be that institutions have not yet figured out how to teach a whole generation of students who learned to read on the computer and who watch more TV.”
I am still scratching my head over that one. He suspects that it might be a different kind of literacy involved. I suspect that we are in for a new set of tests that will challenge students to use embedded hyperlinks to find and use information among a collection of different types of texts.
Finding information by using hyperlinks and having an understanding of what links to click is a deep part of computer literacy. One click will order a column of information, another click will send mail, another will engage an engine in a search you must define, and yet another will open a review of a product. That set of skills is encountered by even very young children reading and researching online. Within minutes a child might have to interact with the material on the screen several times. This set of skills conflicts with the inherent bias of tests to finding out what you cannot do properly.
During interactions with the computer, if a student does not get the expected results by clicking a symbol or word, it is a simple matter of checking the instructions and clicking somewhere else again until you figure out what is needed to progress. Static paper and pencil tests are left far behind by this new skill set. Fill in a bubble incorrectly and you might find out it is incorrect months later.
Interactivity foils the goals of test writers.