I admit it. I’ve assigned multiple choice questions before.
They are easy to produce and quick to grade. They seem to provide an objective, comparable measurement of student knowledge. And no one will criticize me for using them.
So why do I feel guilty?
Because when I use multiple choice for assessment, I know I am settling. It’s like shopping at Wal-Mart. I know it’s not good for me, store employees, or society as a whole.
But I can’t help myself. The system is in place. Society wants me to shop there.
So I do. It’s just so…convenient.
Multiple choice tests have been a staple of American education for almost a century. Concerned about the subjective judgement and large amounts of time associated with grading papers, Frederick J. Kelly developed a more efficient, objective testing method in 1914.
Professor Kelly’s creation was a product of the machine age. Multiple choice questions were “a dependable, uniform, easily replicated product— the assembly-line model of dependability and standardization.”
There wasn’t much evidence that the multiple choice test was an accurate measure of what a child knew, but no one could deny the test’s efficiency.
America has grown out of the machine age and into a new economy defined by new technology and global connections. But in education, efficiency still reigns supreme. Often at the expense of effectiveness.
I’ve come to view multiple choice tests as the poster child for our outdated, mass-education system. They reward memorization of isolated facts and information, leaving little room for coherent thinking, logic, and individual style.
We can do better.
I know it will take more work. I know it will be uncomfortable. It could get us in trouble. But new technology makes it possible to support more imaginative assessments that are efficient and actually effective.
Multiple choice tests had a good run. Now let’s move on to something better.