With five themes, this chapter reviews the purposes and nature of educational assessment and its role in the educational system,

  • Educational assessments are used in classroom and large-scale policy contexts for multiple purposes. This report addresses assessments used for three broad purposes: to assist learning, to measure individual achievement, and to evaluate programs. The purpose of an assessment determines priorities, and the context of use imposes constraints on the design.

  • Although an assessment intended to help teachers plan the next set of lessons may look far different from one used by state administrators to gauge the effectiveness of school mathematics programs, certain common principles underlie all assessments. One such principle is that, by its very nature, assessment is imprecise to some degree. Assessment results are estimates, based on samples of knowledge and performance drawn from the much larger universe of everything a person knows and can do.

  • Assessment is a process of reasoning from evidence. Because one cannot directly perceive students’ mental processes, one must rely on less direct methods to make judgments about what they know.

  • As discussed in Chapter 1, every assessment is based on three interconnected elements: a theory of what students know and how they develop competence in a subject domain (cognition); tasks or situations used to collect evidence about student performance (observation); and a method for drawing inferences from those observations (interpretation). These three elements can serve as a framework for thinking about the foundations of assessment and their interrelationships.

  • Assessment does not exist in isolation, but must be closely aligned with the goals of curriculum and instruction. A model of how students learn, based on cognitive findings and educational research, can serve as a unifying element that lends cohesion to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.



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