At the Third International Conference on Mathematics Education (Chicago, 1991), Lauren Resnick, University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center, described an endeavor to create a national examination system:
The United States is almost unique in believing that it is native talent and family background - rather than effort - that account for success in school. Our proposal is fundamentally different. We plan to build an examination system built on the assumption that all students can achieve at high levels and that it is effort, not native ability or family background, that enables students to succeed. The examination system we propose would consist of three main components, sometimes referred to as the 3 P's - timed Performance examinations, student Projects (group and individual), and Portfolios of student work.
During performance examinations, students will be asked to solve challenging problems, putting to use knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom. These exams might consist of substantial essays, laboratory demonstrations, or the use of multiple mathematical methods to solve a complex technical problem. Portfolios would consist of a student's best work, of many different kinds, accumulated over a period of years. Projects, done alone and with other students, will require students to do significant pieces of work - research papers, field work involving scientific analysis, musical performances and design and construction of working models. Portfolios and projects allow students to move ahead at their own pace, and choose for themselves the tasks and projects that they would use to demonstrate their competence against a set of known standards.
The idea is to come up with one reference examination, to which other examinations could be compared through a process called calibration. Using the calibration process would enable the nation to be certain that the mastery standard in all the calibrated exams represented the same level of accomplishment irrespective of which exam was taken by an individual student. This system will have two important advantages. First, states, regional associations, school districts, private and independent schools - perhaps even individual students in some cases - could choose which examination they wish to use, permitting variation on the details of curriculum and approach that will be highly valued in this pluralistic society. The second advantage could, ultimately be even more important. The open invitation to all comers to design new examinations will be a continuing source of renewal for the whole system, making it less likely that the examination system will eventually come to represent a past rather than a current reflection of the needs and aspirations of the American people.
The New Standards Project is working to develop the system required to calibrate a variety of examinations to the reference examination. The leading psychometricians have joined the Project, but they say "We've had 70 years with the old tests, and only 3 years with the new. Don't expect us to come through terribly fast."
The challenge facing those "leading psychometricians" is precisely the one that faced Georg Rasch 40 years ago. Rasch's Danish army recruits took different tests at different times and yet all examinee abilities and test item difficulties needed to be calibrated on one measurement scale. Rasch constructed his model pragmatically. Theory since has shown it to be the necessary and sufficient answer to the measurement problem. How many years will the "leading psychometricians" take to discover that the Rasch model is needed for the New Standards Project to succeed?
Benjamin D. Wright
Later: The "New Standards Project" effectively ended in 1996 - 'New Standards' Leaves Legacy Of Unmet Goals. The Project compiled some reference examinations, but appears not to have advanced further. It is not known what the "leading psychometricians" accomplished.
The New Standards Project. Resnick L, Wright BD. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 1991, 5:3, 168
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