The liberal gang running Kentucky’s public education system in Frankfort have been in love with expensive and relatively unreliable written answer test question formats since the very earliest days of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Countless times Kentuckians have been told that the only way to assess students’ higher order thinking ability is with these difficult to design and score question formats.
The argument continues today with the Kentucky Board of Education and state legislators regularly being told by various groups such as Gene Wilhoit’s National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky that the only way to assess such things as science ability is with written answer (sometimes called open-response answer) questions and even more exotic performance tasks.
But, are those arguments for expensive, difficult to create and score test question types valid?
Now, a major player in the testing industry, the ACT, Inc., has issued a short paper claiming that the humble, but much less expensive and much more accurate to grade multiple-choice question format is a lot better than the liberal education crowd wants to admit.
In “Reviewing Your Options: The Case for Using Multiple-Choice Test Items,” ACT points out that:
“…when constructed well, multiple-choice (sometimes called selected-response) questions can and do efficiently assess students’ higher order thinking skills and reflect their real-world problem solving skills, and are an important part of an assessment system that includes a variety of question formats and types of assessments.”
ACT goes on to say that:
“Multiple-choice questions have many desirable features, which is why ACT invests time and resources in their development.”
The paper points to a number of advantages to using multiple-choice questions. These include:
- Content coverage can be more extensive
- Testing time can be shortened
- Multiple types of skills can be assessed beyond just simple recall to include higher-order thinking
- The results are generally more reliable and valid than other testing formats produce
- Students prefer the format and tend to stay better engaged on the tests – leads to fewer omitted answers
- Costs are generally significantly lower for multiple-choice tests. The ACT paper cites a General Accounting Office study that showed that a test composed of both multiple-choice and open-ended items cost nearly three times as much as a multiple-choice only test.
- In addition to direct dollar costs involved, open-ended item tests take a lot longer to score.
Some of the criticisms of multiple-choice questions are disputed by ACT, as well. For example:
- Guessing can be controlled with well-designed multiple-choice tests.
- The idea that only written-response answers can test student problem-solving and higher-order thinking is not always borne out in fact. Just because a student must write an answer or do and experiment is no guarantee that those skills are actually being fairly evaluated and reported.
So, there you have it from one of the nation’s most respected testing organizations. People trying to push Kentucky to use a lot of expensive testing may not be giving us good information.