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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
Four themes guide the discussion in this chapter of how advances in the cognitive sciences and new approaches to measurement have created opportunities, not yet fully realized, for assessments to be used in ways that better serve the goals of learning.
One type of assessment does not fit all. The purpose and context of an assessment set priorities and constraints on the design. The power of classroom assessment resides in its close connections to instruction and teachers’ knowledge of their students’ instructional histories. Largescale, standardized assessments can communicate across time and place, but by so constraining the content and timeliness of the message that they often have limited utility in the classroom. These kinds of trade-offs are an inescapable aspect of assessment design.
It is in the context of classroom assessment that the most significant benefit can be gained from advances in cognitive theory. Learning is enhanced by assessment that provides feedback to students about particular qualities of their work and what they can do to improve their understanding. To provide this kind of information, teachers must have a foundation of knowledge about how students learn the subject matter.
Large-scale assessments are further removed from instruction, but can still benefit learning if well designed and properly used. They can signal worthy goals and display to the public what competency in a domain looks like, along with typical learning pathways. They can also play an important role in communicating and fostering public dialogue about educational goals. However, fully capitalizing on a merger of cognitive and measurement principles will require relaxing some of the constraints that drive current large-scale assessment practices.
Multiple measures are needed to serve the assessment needs of an educational system. Currently, however, conflicts between classroom and large-scale assessments in terms of both goals and feedback cause confusion for educators, students, and parents. We describe a vision of coordinated systems of assessment in which multiple assessments work together, along with curriculum and instruction, to support a shared set of learning goals. In this vision, a greater portion of the investment in assessment is shifted toward the classroom, where it can be used most directly to assist learning.