THE ROLE OF ASSESSMENT IN REFORM

Mathematics assessment must change in ways that will both support and be consistent with other changes under way in mathematics education

Assessment can play a powerful role in conveying, clearly and directly, the outcomes toward which reform in mathematics is aimed. As assessment changes along with instruction, it can help teachers and students keep track of their progress toward higher standards. Many reformers see assessment as much more than a signpost, viewing it as a lever for propelling reform forward.1 It is essential that mathematics assessment change in ways that will both support and be consistent with other changes under way in mathematics education.

From their beginnings in the last century, standardized achievement tests have been used in American schools not only to determine what students have learned but also to induce better teaching. The written tests administered by the Boston School Committee in 1845 led to rankings of schools by level of achievement and to recommended changes in instructional methods.2 The New York State Regents Examinations were set up primarily to maintain standards by showing teachers what their students needed to know.3 The traditional view of many Americans that tests and examinations can do more than measure achievement is reflected in this quotation from a 1936 book on assessment prepared for the American Council on Education: "Recently increasing emphasis has been placed upon examinations as means for improving instruction, and as instruments for securing information that is indispensable for the constructive educational guidance of pupils."4

Researchers are beginning to document more thoroughly the effects of assessment, determining, in effect, whether this traditional view is justified. A 1992 study by the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy at Boston College examined the content of the most commonly used tests embedded in textbooks and standardized tests in mathematics and science for grades 4 to 12 and how they influence instruction. The authors noted that the tests fell far short of the reform vision and concluded that

Since textbook tests were found to be similar to standardized tests in the skills they measure, and since these tests are widely used, an emphasis on low level thinking skills extends beyond the instructional time spent preparing for state and district mandated standardized tests. The tests most commonly taken by stu



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