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The Boston Globe

Ideas

What to test instead

A new wave of test designers believe they can measure creativity, problem solving, and collaboration – and that a smarter exam could change education.

When Harvard University announced last month that it was investigating 125 students for cheating on a take-home exam, most of the ensuing public fuss focused on the students: whether they were kids wrongfooted by the requirements of an unpredictable class, as they claimed, or sneaky overachievers driven to cut corners by some mix of ambition and laziness. But beyond the question of the moral fiber of Harvard students, there was another player in the drama: the test itself.

The final exam, according to the instructions, had been “completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc.” The one thing it forbade the students to do was to work together—a requirement that some commentators, such as Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo, have argued is absurd. If the purpose of education is to help young people develop skills they’ll need later in life, Manjoo wrote after the scandal broke, it makes no sense to arbitrarily prevent them from demonstrating precisely those skills when they’re taking a test.

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