Base tests on curricula, not standards

It’s hard to write good test questions based on a set of standards, writes Dan Willingham on Britannica Blog. The standards tend to be so broad that nobody knows what’s really expected or too narrow, encouraging teachers to teach only what’s on the list of expectations.

I don’t see how these problems can be avoided unless you make the expectations more comprehensive. That is, instead of writing a list of standards, specify the expectations for contents and skills in more detail — in short, base tests on a curriculum. A curriculum would differ from a list of standards because it would include both the broad conceptual ideas and the specific content, and it would describe how the abstract concepts relate to the specific content.

A number of states are moving toward a statewide core curriculum, encouraged by Achieve.

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  1. Robert Wright says:

    This is interesting.

    These are good questions.

    Something to think about.

  2. The Achieve website is outstanding.

  3. This sounds like what was done in NZ for the external exams I sat. The exams would have a mix of questions – some which could be answered based purely on factual recall, some based on interpreting data given in the test question, and some that required some more application of skills you had learnt (eg a test question on science provided an example of a mine with two shafts to the surface, and a fire lit under one shaft. The question had two sub-questions, one was to explain how the fire helped air circulation, a subject that was part of the curriculum for that year, the other asked if the circulation would increase if a fire was lit under the other shaft.

  4. If the curriculum and standards aren’t the same thing, then you’ve located one of your problems if things aren’t going as you’d like them to at your school.