Monday, October 31, 2011

Assessing Students’ Knowledge and Skills through Certification Exams

As we consider ways to improve education, especially with the use of technology, two professors of education have formulated a possible solution for measuring students’ knowledge and skills. While states develop curriculum standards and sometimes assessment exams that schools use to teach and assess students, Alan Collins of Northwestern University and Roy Pea of Stanford University submit that in the digital age, “we need to reconsider how students are deemed proficient in terms of the skills and knowledge they develop outside the standard classroom environment.”

Their plan, published this month by Education Week, centers around the development of national certification exams for subject areas addressed in the common core state standards as well as for less traditional subject areas, such as IT. By offering certifications in many subject areas, students who learn skills outside a traditional classroom have a way of earning a credential that proves their expertise.

In Collins and Pea’s plan:
  • Certification exams would have high standards, comparable to Advanced Placement exams
  • Exams could be taken in a classroom or at a learning center such as Sylvan
  • Exams could be taken by anyone who wanted to take them, with a small fee
  • Exams could be administered and scored by a computer, automatically sending a report to the test-taker with results and suggested learning resources for improvement
  • Students could accumulate as many certifications as they wanted, which would become part of their certification record

For the alternative certification exams envisioned by Collins and Pea, students could prepare in many different ways: virtual or traditional courses; lectures or demonstrations online; books; face-to-face or online tutoring; or engaging games. With exam objectives published online, students would know what is required to pass, and it would not matter what method they used to prepare.

According to Collins and Pea, “a national certification exam system has the virtue that the certifications specify much more precisely than a diploma or transcript what the learner knows and can do. Such a system could reflect our national goals for education and the high standards we want students to meet.”

The TestOut PC Pro Certification recently released by TestOut aligns neatly with the theory of Collins and Pea; the certification is designed to authentically assess what a student can do in the subject area of computer maintenance, no matter what course or method a student uses to prepare for the exam. The PC Pro Certification earned by students will be recognized by employers for its authenticity and objectivity.

What do you think of Collins and Pea’s proposal for a national certification exam system?

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