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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
There is increasing recognition within the assessment community that traditional forms of validation emphasizing consistency with other measures, as well as the search for indirect indicators that can show this consistency statistically, should be supplemented with evidence of the cognitive or substantive aspect of validity (e.g., Linn et al., 1991; Messick, 1993). That is, the trustworthiness of the interpretation of test scores should rest in part on empirical evidence that the assessment tasks actually tap the intended cognitive processes.
Situative and sociocultural research on learning (see Chapter 3) suggests that validation should be taken a step further. This body of research emphasizes that cognitive processes are embedded in social practices. From this perspective, the performance of students on tests is understood as an activity in the situation presented by the test and success depends on ability to participate in the practices of test taking (Greeno, Pearson, and Schoenfeld, 1996). It follows that validation should include the collection of evidence that test takers have the communicative practices required for their responses to be actual indicators of such abilities as understanding and reasoning. The assumption that students have the necessary communicative skills has been demonstrated to be false in many cases. For instance, Cole, Gay, and Glick (1968) conducted research in Liberia in which they assessed various cognitive capabilities, such as conservation and classification. From a standard assessment perspective, the Liberian test takers appeared to lack the skills being tested. But when assessments were designed that made sense in their practices, a much more positive picture of their competencies emerged.
Approaches to Task Validation
As described by Messick (1993) and summarized by Magone, Cai, Silver and Wang (1994), a variety of techniques can be used to examine the processes examinees use during task performance to evaluate whether prospective items are functioning as intended. One such method is protocol analysis, in which students are asked to think aloud as they solve problems or to describe retrospectively how they solved the problems (see Ericsson and Simon, 1984). Another method is analysis of reasons, in which students are asked to provide rationales for their responses to the tasks. A third method is analysis of errors, in which one draws inferences about processes from incorrect procedures, concepts, or representations of the problems. All of these methods were described earlier in Chapter 3 as part of the scientific reasoning process used by researchers to develop and test theories of the knowledge and processes underlying performance on cognitive tasks.
Baxter and Glaser (1998) used some of these techniques to examine how well test developers’ intentions are realized in performance assessments that purport to measure complex cognitive processes. They devel-