In the early 1990s, Maryland put in place a complex, performance-based assessment to determine not only whether elementary school students could read, write and do math at a basic level but also whether they could demonstrate complex problem-solving and think critically across disciplines.

No dummy test, this was the real deal.

To give a sense of one of the test items: fifth-graders were given some equipment — straws, salt, steel pellets, paper clips, beakers, pitchers of water and some things I have forgotten — and were asked to work in a group to devise a test for salinity and then individually write up their results.

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