The English social scientist Gregory Bateson once said, “Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all.” His pioneering perspective on interdisciplinary thinking highlights an important truth about educational assessment: far too often, we test student knowledge, aptitude, and achievement using methods that ignore the contexts in which those skills play out in real life.
Recognizing this truth is important because even when educational assessments don’t provide contextual information, students still generate it themselves. For example, students are likely to think about the situations and places where they use a particular skill during their everyday lives when deciding how to respond to a test question. Those “contexts” may differ greatly depending on a student’s background and experiences, which may lead to decreased assessment validity and subgroup score differences.
Closing this “context gap” has become a priority for educators and assessors. In our view, solutions can be found by exploring best practices generated within another high-stakes assessment arena—pre-employment testing.
For decades, an assessment methodology known as “situational judgment” has proven to be both a reliable and valid hiring tool and an engaging experience for candidates. While the use of SJTs has recently expanded into domains such as credentialing, they are rarely seen within the educational assessment field. Based on our experience and lessons learned deploying the situational judgment test (SJT) methodology across a number of high-stakes testing programs, we believe SJTs offer promising applications within the educational assessment arena.