individualized learning you are what you eat

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT and you know what you're tested on. Tests have powerful influence over what we learn. Those big, honkin' annual tests that kids sweat over every spring are being rewritten to correspond to the Common Core standards that (so far) 42 states plan to start using by 2014. School chief Arne Duncan calls the two US government-funded programs crafting these new tests "the quiet revolution." But the revolution is getting noisier. More than 170 people involved in education have signed this letter, asking that the test-makers create assessments that factor in the trend toward more individualized education. (Full disclosure: EdSurge signed too.) The letter makes three points: create an "ecosystem" of tests rather than a monolithic one; figure out how to cooperate with the private sector so that companies building edtech software (with assessments built-in) will be in synch with the broader assessment tools; and don't force every kid to take the same test on some red-letter day. Instead measure "mastery" by testing students when they are ready for the assessments. (Here's Tom VanderArk's explanation of the letter.)

These new assessments are still on the drawing board so it's worth weighing in. The letter drafters hope to influence the efforts (which have been a tad bit opaque so far). There's a healthy debate about whether the characteristics described in the letter would make the assessments more or less costly to develop. A gaping hole, still, involves APIs: there are not clear, commonly employed standards that will let the data from one assessment system flow smoothly into another. This is a problem for everybody, especially for buyers who shouldn't have to worry winding up in data cul-de-sac. Smartest move for industry? Start crafting those APIs.

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