Yesterday Kevin Drum had a fascinating post about the potential for computer software offering quick feedback to students taking writing tests, and essentially offering continuous learning and assessment instead of occasional high-stakes one-shot tests:

Anyone who teaches writing will tell you about the value of having students write often and with quick feedback. Every day if possible. The problem is that, practically speaking, it’s not usually possible. So if an automated system can handle short student essays and provide decent—not great, but decent—feedback immediately, that has huge potential. This software may not be 100 percent ready for prime time yet, but it’s getting there. And it could be a game changer.

Anyone (say, parents, teachers or taxpayers) interested in this topic should go back and read (or re-read) Bill Tucker’s article in the May/June 2012 issue of the Washington Monthly (“Grand Test Auto”) about the vast potential of interactive software that can be used simultaneously for instruction and assessment–not just with respect to writing skills, but many other areas. Here’s a sample from Tucker’s piece:

In this vision, students would spend their time in the classroom solving problems, mastering complex projects, or even conducting experiments, as many of them do now. But they ’d do much of it through a technological interface: via interactive lessons and simulations, digital instruments, and, above all, games. Information about an individual student’s approach, persistence, and problem-solving strategies, in addition to their record of right and wrong answers, would be collected over time, generating much more detailed and valid evidence about a student’s skills and knowledge than a one-shot test. And all the while, these sophisticated systems would adapt, constantly updating to keep the student challenged, supported, and engaged.

Sounds good to me. I might even go back to school.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.