The committee considered the implications of advances in the cognitive and measurement sciences for both classroom and large-scale assessment. Consistent with its charge, the committee focused primarily on assessment in science and mathematics education. Although new concepts of assessment could easily apply to other disciplines, science and mathematics hold particular promise for rethinking assessment because of the substantial body of important research and design work already done in these disciplines. Because science and mathematics also have a major impact on the nation’s technological and economic progress, they have been primary targets for education reform at the national and state levels, as well as a focus of concern in international comparative studies. Furthermore, there are persistent disparities among ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic groups in access to quality K-12 science and mathematics instruction. Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth continue to lag far behind Whites and Asians in the amount of course work taken in these subjects and in levels of achievement; this gap negatively affects their access to certain careers and workforce skills. Better assessment, curriculum, and instruction could help educators diagnose the needs of at-risk students and tailor improvements to meet those needs.
The committee also focused on the assessment of school achievement, or the outcomes of schooling, and gave less emphasis to predictive tests (such as college selection tests) that are intended to project how successful an individual will be in a future situation. We had several reasons for this emphasis. First, when one considers the use of assessments at the classroom, district, state, and national levels in any given year, it is clear that the assessment of academic achievement is far more extensive than predictive testing. Second, many advances in cognitive science have already been applied to the study and design of predictive instruments, such as assessments of aptitude or ability. Much less effort has been expended on the application of advances in the cognitive and measurement sciences to issues of assessing academic content knowledge, including the use of such information to aid teaching and learning. Finally, the committee believed that the principles and practices uncovered through a focus on the assessment of academic achievement would generally apply also to what we view as the more circumscribed case of predictive testing.
Our hope is that by reviewing advances in the sciences of how people learn and how such learning can be measured, and by suggesting steps for future research and development, this report will help lay the foundation for a significant leap forward in the field of assessment. The committee envisions a new generation of educational assessments that better serve the goal of equity. Needed are assessments that help all students learn and succeed