Monday, April 23, 2007

Mad Skillz

Just when I thought that standardized multiple-choice testing couldn't get any more misguided, I am -- yet again -- surprised. A year ago, I slammed the Educational Testing Service's then new information literacy test for producing a totally inane metric that rewarded continuing dependence on instrumentalist approaches and lousy corporate information design. It also punished serious reflection on the subject by students who might want to meditate upon the power of persons and institutions who own and control access to information instead. As a way to assess our students' interpretive skills, it wasn't even as accurate as the cheesy dumbed-down quizzes on relationships, sexuality, and office politics that are printed in glossy magazines.

Obviously, such a test ignores the aims of the American Library Association's information literacy standards from 2005 that strive to make users with access to archives sensitive to the "economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information" or Siva Vaidhyanathan's 2006 call for "Critical Information Studies" in the academy, which includes the following description of the field of study:

CIS interrogates the structures, functions, habits, norms, and practices that guide global flows of information and cultural elements. Instead of being concerned merely with one's right to speak (or sing or publish), CIS asks questions about access, costs, and chilling effects on, within, and among audiences, citizens, emerging cultural creators, indigenous cultural groups, teachers, and students. Central to these issues is the idea of ‘semiotic democracy’, or the ability of citizens to employ the signs and symbols ubiquitous in their environments in manners that they determine.

Apparently I wasn't alone in my contempt for this moronic substitute for real assessment. They even failed at hawking it to suburban moms, when educators wouldn't bite. Now it seems that ETS is furiously attempting to re-brand its white elephant, which now has a discounted price tag and a new name.

The new name? iSkills. I kid you not.

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