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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
reviews to monitor for this kind of bias. The use of assessments for highstakes decisions raises additional questions about fairness (NRC, 1999c). If the assessments are not aligned with what students are being taught, it is not fair to base promotion or rewards on the results, especially if less advantaged students are harmed disproportionately by the outcome. If current assessments do not effectively measure the impact of instruction or fail to capture important skills and knowledge, how can educators interpret and address gaps in student achievement?
One of the main goals of current reforms is to improve learning for low-achieving students. If this goal is to be accomplished, assessment must give students, teachers, and other stakeholders information they can use to improve learning and inform instructional decisions for individuals and groups, especially those not performing at high levels. To be sure, assessments by themselves do not cause or cure inequities in education; indeed, many of the causes of such inequities are beyond the scope of the education system itself. However, when assessment fails to provide information that can enhance learning, it leaves educators ill equipped to close achievement gaps.
While concerns associated with large-scale tests have received considerable attention, particularly in recent years, the classroom assessments commonly used by teachers also are often limited in the information they provide. Just as large-scale tests have relied on an incomplete set of ideas about learning, so, too, have the kinds of assessments teachers regularly administer in their classrooms. Often, teachers adhere to assessment formats and scoring practices found in large-scale tests. This can be traced largely to teacher education programs and professional development experiences that have for the most part failed to equip teachers with contemporary knowledge about learning and assessment, especially the knowledge needed to develop tasks that would elicit students’ thinking skills or make it possible to assess their growth and progress toward competence (Cizek, 2000; Dwyer, 1998).
Alternative Assessment Practices
Standards-based reform continues to stimulate research and development on assessment as people seek to design better approaches for measuring valued knowledge and skills. States and school districts have made major investments to better align tests with standards and to develop alternative approaches for assessing knowledge and skills not well captured by most current tests. Teachers have been offered professional development opportunities focusing on the development and scoring of new state assessment instruments more closely aligned with curricular and instructional practices. Nowhere has this confluence of activity been more evident than in the area of “performance assessment” (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1999;