few decades of the 20th century, researchers focused on such matters as the nature of general intellectual ability and its distribution in the population. In the 1930s, scholars started emphasizing such issues as the laws governing stimulus-and-response associations in learning. Beginning in the 1960s, advances in fields as diverse as linguistics, computer science, and neuroscience offered provocative new perspectives on human development and powerful new technologies for observing behavior and brain functions. The result during the past 40 years has been an outpouring of scientific research on the mind and brain—a “cognitive revolution” as some have termed it. With richer and more varied evidence in hand, researchers have refined earlier theories or developed new ones to explain the nature of knowing and learning.
As described by Greeno, Pearson and Schoenfeld (1996b), four perspectives are particularly significant in the history of research and theory regarding the nature of the human mind: the differential, behaviorist, cognitive, and situative perspectives. Most current tests, and indeed many aspects of the science of educational measurement, have theoretical roots in the differential and behaviorist traditions. The more recent perspectives—the cognitive and the situative—are not well reflected in traditional assessments but have influenced several recent innovations in the design and use of educational assessments. These four perspectives, summarized below, are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they emphasize different aspects of knowing and learning with differing implications for what should be assessed and how the assessment process should be transacted (see e.g., Greeno, Collins, and Resnick, 1996a; Greeno et al., 1996b).
The differential perspective focuses mainly on the nature of individual differences in what people know and in their potential for learning. The roots of research within this tradition go back to the start of the 20th century. “Mental tests” were developed to discriminate among children who were more or less suited to succeed in the compulsory school environment that had recently been instituted in France (Binet and Simon, 1980). The construction and composition of such tests was a very practical matter: tasks were chosen to represent a variety of basic knowledge and cognitive skills that children of a given age could be expected to have acquired. Inclusion of a task in the assessment was based on the how well it discriminated among children within and across various age ranges. A more abstract approach to theorizing about the capacities of the mind arose, however, from the practice of constructing mental tests and administering them to samples of children and adults. Theories of intelligence and mental ability emerged that were based entirely on analyses of the patterns of correlation among test scores. To pursue such work, elaborate statistical machinery was devel-