At its root, assessment is a communication process that tells students, teachers, parents, and policymakers some things—but not everything—about what students have learned. Assessment provides information that can be used to award grades, to evaluate a curriculum, or to decide whether to review fractions. Internal assessment communicates to teachers critical aspects of their students' performance, helping them to adjust their instructional techniques accordingly. External assessment provides information about mathematics programs to parents, state and local education agencies, funding bodies, and policymakers.
Assessment can be the engine that propels reform forward, but only if education rather than measurement is the driving force.
Many reformers see assessment as much more than an educational report card. Assessment can be the engine that propels reform forward, but only if we make education rather than measurement the driving force in the development of new assessments. By setting a public and highly visible target to which all can aspire, assessment can inform students, parents, and teachers about the real performance-based meaning of curriculum guidelines. Assessments not only measure what students know but provide concrete illustrations of the important goals to which students and teachers can aspire.
Improved assessment is required to complement and support the changes under way in mathematics education: both in the kinds of mathematics that are taught and in the ways in which they are taught. As such, assessment is an integral part of an interlocking triad of reforms along with curriculum and professional development of teachers. Because assessment is key to determining what students learn and how teachers teach, it must be reshaped in a manner consistent with the new vision of teaching and learning.
Students learn important mathematics when they use mathematics in relevant contexts in ways that require them to apply what they know and extend their thinking. Students think when they are learning and they learn when they are thinking. Good teachers have long recognized that mathematics comes alive for students when it is learned through experiences they find meaningful and valuable. Students learn best and most enduringly by engaging mathematics actively, by