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OCR for page 57
Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment INTRODUCTION The scientific basis for rethinking the foundations of assessment comes from two disciplines: cognitive science and educational measurement. The following two chapters review developments in these disciplines over the last several decades that have important implications for the design and use of educational assessments. The committee presents these developments side by side because they form the necessary and complementary foundations of the science and design of educational assessment. Modern knowledge, theories, models, and methods from these two fields provide the underpinnings of a scientifically credible and principled approach to assessment. Chapter 3 summarizes findings from cognitive science about how people think and learn. With reference to the assessment triangle introduced in Chapter 2, cognitive research provides the scientific basis for the central model of cognition and learning that informs the assessment design, or the cognition vertex of the triangle. Cognitive research suggests the important aspects of learning about which one would want to draw inferences when measuring student achievement. It also helps determine the design of the observation corner of the triangle by suggesting the types of situations or tasks that will elicit evidence from students to support the desired inferences. Four decades of theory and research on human cognition, learning, and development has provided powerful insights into how students represent knowledge and develop competence in specific domains, as well as how tasks and situations can be designed to provide evidence for inferences about what students know and can do. Chapter 4 summarizes the contributions that the discipline of educational measurement (psychometrics) can make to a new approach to assessment. Measurement models are statistical examples of the interpretation corner of the assessment triangle. They provide the statistical tools that make it possible to integrate the myriad of information obtained from the tasks of an assessment to formulate assessment results (inferences about student competencies). In most current forms of assessment, the measurement models are relatively simple, enabling inferences about students’ general proficiency levels and relative rankings. But just as there have been advances in the sciences of cognition and learning, there have been significant developments in methods of measurement over the last several decades. A wide array of newer models and methods are available that can better capture the complexities of learning as it is now understood. Taken together, developments from the sciences of cognition and measurement should serve as the scientific foundations of assessment. The knowledge accumulated in these fields can guide the determination of what observations it is sensible to undertake and what sense can be made of those observations when measuring student achievement.
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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment Five themes are the focus for the discussion of advances in the sciences of thinking and learning in this chapter: Theories of learning and knowing have expanded substantially over the last 100 years. We briefly describe those shifts and their impact on assessment practices. Current understanding of the nature of learning and knowledge details various fundamental components of the structures, processes, and contents of the human mind. Consideration is given to each of these components and their significance for understanding and assessing human knowledge and performance. A hallmark of contemporary cognitive science is the study of how expertise is acquired in particular subject domains. The features of expertise are considered, together with research on the acquisition of expertise. We also examine those aspects of children’s development and learning that relate to the acquisition of subject matter expertise and that have implications for instruction and assessment. Empirically based models of student knowledge and learning have been developed for multiple curricular areas. Examples are provided of detailed models that have been directly employed to support innovative instructional and assessment practices in specific academic domains. The cognitive sciences are founded on rigorous empirical study of both simple and complex forms of cognition. Various methods of observation and inference used in the cognitive sciences to probe the nature of thinking are discussed because of their relevance to issues regarding the design of assessment tasks and methods of inference about what students know.