This post was originally published at Getting Smart on January 17, 2015.
Don’t you think it’s time we retired those Scantron machines? Since the 70s, they’ve been trusted in hundreds of school districts across the country to tally the scores of students who filled pink ovals with #2 pencils. The Scantron machine heralded the pervasive use of multiple-choice questions in the decades that followed. Today, with all that we know about how to assess a student’s mastery of a topic, MCQs are an anachronism — like cassette tapes and typewriters. As readers of this blog are well aware, the education sector is undergoing the same technological innovation that has swept through businesses and households — and the rate of change is accelerating.
With all this technological progress underway, why are MCQs are still in use? One reason is that they are the default question format for many of the technology-assisted tools that, when introduced, made the assignment and grading process much more efficient and scalable. However, MCQs are simply not the best way test a student’s knowledge because they shed little light on the student’s ability to apply, integrate, and synthesize knowledge. Information gleaned from a MCQ test can often be misleading because students can guess the right answer or game the system to eliminate all the wrong choices – even if they don’t understand the question or know any of the correct answers. (more…)