Second, the design principles proposed in this chapter apply to assessments intended to serve a variety of purposes. The different ways in which the principles play out in specific contexts of use and under different sets of constraints are illustrated with a diverse set of examples. In other words, it should not be assumed that the principles proposed in this chapter pertain only to formal, large-scale assessment design. These principles also apply to informal forms of assessment in the classroom, such as when a teacher asks students oral questions or creates homework assignments. All assessments will be more fruitful when based on an understanding of cognition in the domain and on the precept of reasoning from evidence.

Finally, the features of assessment design described here represent an ideal case that is unlikely to be fully attained with any single assessment. The examples provided of actual assessments are approximations of this ideal. They illustrate how advances in the cognitive and measurement sciences have informed the development of many aspects of such an ideal design, and provide evidence that further efforts in this direction could enhance teaching and learning. In turn, these examples point to the limitations of current knowledge and technology and suggest the need for further research and development, addressed in Part IV.


Deciding what to assess is not as simple as it might appear. Existing guidelines for assessment design emphasize that the process should begin with a statement of the purpose for the assessment and a definition of the content domain to be measured (AERA et al., 1999; Millman and Greene, 1993). This report expands on current guidelines by emphasizing that the targets of inference should also be largely determined by a model of cognition and learning that describes how people represent knowledge and develop competence in the domain (the cognition element of the assessment triangle). Starting with a model of learning is one of the main features that distinguishes the committee’s proposed approach to assessment design from current approaches. The model suggests the most important aspects of student achievement about which one would want to draw inferences and provides clues about the types of assessment tasks that will elicit evidence to support those inferences.

For example, if the purpose of an assessment is to provide teachers with a tool for determining the most appropriate next steps for arithmetic instruction, the assessment designer should turn to the research on children’s development of number sense (see also Chapter 3). Case, Griffin, and colleagues have produced descriptions of how young children develop understanding in various mathematical areas (Case, 1996; Case, Griffin, and

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