Correctness vs. understanding

There is a big, important difference between correctness and understanding.

The example

The scenario

Conventional multiple choice question

  1. The pan will move up.
  2. The pan will not move.
  3. The pan will move down.
  4. The pan will first move up and then down.
  5. The pan will first move down and then up.

Lectical Assessment question

Debrief

Why is all of this important?

  • It’s not fair! The multiple-choice item cheats Adriana of the chance to show off what she knows, and it treats Lillian and Josh as if their level of understanding is identical.
  • The multiple-choice item provides no useful information to students or teachers! The most we can legitimately infer from a correct answer is that the student has learned that when steel rusts, it gets heavier. This correct answer is a fact. The ability to identify a fact does not tell us how it is understood.
  • Without understanding, knowledge isn’t useful. Facts that are not supported with understanding are useful on Jeopardy, but less so in real life. Learning that does not increase understanding or competence is a tragic waste of students’ time.
  • Despite clear evidence that correct answers on standardized tests do not measure understanding and are therefore not a good indicator of usable knowledge or competence, we continue to use scores on these tests to make decisions about who will get into which college, which teachers deserve a raise, and which schools should be closed.
  • We value what we measure. As long as we continue to measure correctness, school curricula will emphasize correctness, and deeper, more useful, forms of learning will remain relatively neglected.
ViP info | ViP rationale

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Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.

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Theo Dawson

Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.