Breaking The Mold: Technology-Based Science Assessment In The 21st Century


Quellmalz, E.S. & Haertel, G. D. (2000). Breaking the Mold: Technology-Based Science Assessment in the 21st Century.


The pressure to prepare students for the 21st century is accompanied by demands from educational stakeholders that students must learn to use their minds well and demonstrate competence in challenging subject matter (National Education Goals Panel, 1997). To help achieve these student outcomes, educators have drawn on research from cognitive science and begun to favor classrooms that support students in self-directed learning, nurture in-depth reasoning, facilitate discourse among students and teachers, and encourage students to create products that demonstrate their attainments. Based on the scholarship of cognitive psychologists, such as Vygotsky (1978), Brown (1994), and Resnick and Resnick (1991), these instructional strategies are aligned with constructivist philosophy and pedagogy and are present in many reform efforts. National standards, too, formulate goals embodying student achievement of deep conceptual understanding and effective problem solving and critical thinking. Goals for all students to master challenging content are articulated in the subject matter standards prepared by national professional organizations and by the call for tests designed to measure how well students achieve these new standards. Simultaneously, practitioners involved in educational reforms are citing the need for credible and appropriate methods to assess student growth on world class standards and to document accomplishments of innovative programs.

During the past decade, technology and education have formed a lively partnership that is likely to reform the way learning occurs in our nation’s schools. The Panel on Educational Technology of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (1997, p. 33) acknowledges this possibility as follows: “the real promise of technology in education lies in its potential to facilitate fundamental, qualitative changes in the nature of teaching and learning.” Recent research increasingly supports the proposition that computers and communication resources can move teachers from emphasizing drill and practice to using pedagogies that are more challenging and lead to deeper understandings on the part of students (Becker & Ravitz, in press; Means & Olson, 1997; Pea, 1997). In particular, technology is seen as a strong support to facilitate the use of constructivist reforms in day-to-day instruction. Technology can transform learning environments so that instruction is highly interactive, intensive, rich in content, eclectic in the psychological processes elicited, and customized to a student’s needs and interests. Technology can alter the way students learn, the way teachers teach, and the way we assess what students know. One way that technology can support constructivist practices is by enhancing the range of student outcomes and testing methods employed in traditional science assessments.

The changes called for by educational reformers require an amalgam of powerful strategies to transform learning environments to better support student growth. No single innovation can accomplish such pervasive change, but, in recent years, research has documented technology’s transformative power. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the many ways that technology has been shown to affect educational practice. Instead, this article will focus solely on how technology is changing the world of educational testing.

Read more from SRI