According to this story from the NY Times, the Educational Testing Service has developed a standardized test to assess information literacy. According to this story, the test, called the Information and Communications Technology literacy assessment,

…can assess students’ ability to make good critical evaluations of the vast amount of material available to them.

…is intended to measure students’ ability to manage exercises like sorting e-mail messages or manipulating tables and charts, and to assess how well they organize and interpret information from many sources and in myriad forms.

Let’s ignore the fact that sorting email hardly qualifies as information literacy. But this is my favorite quote from the whole story:

But not everyone agrees that measuring information literacy can be done, even with a standardized test.

Indeed, I’d say that not everyone agrees that measuring information literacy can be done, especially not with a standardized test.

I’ve taken the SAT and the GRE, and I have to say, I still don’t have any idea what they’re supposed to be assessing. As far as I can tell, all they assess is my ability to take standardized tests. Fortunately for me, I do well at that. But that’s beside the point.

I realize that standardized testing is big business these days. But it’s not clear to me just when and how this information literacy test will be used. This quote maybe gives a clue:

…the public wants accountability. People want to ensure that colleges are actually preparing students for the future.

So not only will students have to take a standardized test to get into college, they’ll have to take another to graduate? And if not that, what situation will this test be used in?

But more important, explain to me how information literacy can be evaluated using a multiple choice test? Unfortunately this new test is not yet listed on the ETS site, so I can’t even evaluate it for myself.

According to the ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,

An information literate individual is able to:

* Determine the extent of information needed
* Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
* Evaluate information and its sources critically
* Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
* Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
* Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Explain to me how these skills can be assessed except through a real-life information need and search? And I’m serious about wanting it explained to me… I teach INLS 40 essentially as an information literacy course. If there was an assignment I could give that would be easier to grade – say, a standardized test – and would give me as much information about my students’ critical thinking skills as my current assignment, I’d sure like to know about it. Believe me, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve never been able to come up with a better way to assess critical thinking about information than through a realistic information seeking and use task. I realize that I don’t get tenure for great teaching, but still it seems to me that if you want to assess your students’ abilities, you really ought to use a data collection instrument that will actually allow you to assess your students’ abilities.