Conventional wisdom in many education circles (see here) tells us that multiple choice tests are the enemy of critical thinking and deep content mastery. Such tests, we're told, can't really assess student learning. What's worse, they ?encourage? teachers to teach test-taking tricks and strategies rather than to demand true mastery of essential content and skills.
I bought this rhetoric for a long time. As a teacher, I always felt like I was taking a shortcut if I chose multiple choice tests over short answer questions or essays.
That was, until I started actually writing network-wide interim assessments and helping teachers use the data from these tests to drive daily instruction, one-on-one tutoring, and small group instruction. It was only then that I really began to realize the power of these frequently-maligned assessment tools.
To be clear, I wholeheartedly agree that multiple choice tests cannot and should not be the only means of assessing student knowledge and skills. But, they rarely are. For example, I can't think of a single instance where open-ended response questions aren't part of the state assessment system. Or when the best teachers don't pair these assessments with projects, essay tests, and other measure of student learning.
But in reality, there is much teachers can learn about student progress toward mastery of essential content and skills from multiple choice questions. In fact, I sometimes believe that you can learn more about where student understanding is breaking down by analyzing data from...