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Improving Student Learning in Mathematics and Science: The Role of National Standards in State Policy
New Jersey, state leadership has "openly embraced opportunity-to-learn standards as part of a strategic plan to improve education and address equity" (Massell et al., 1997, p. 48).
5-D Assist schools and the general community to understand and use the results of assessments and develop action plans based on results.
Reflection and understanding based on observation and evidence are at the core of science and mathematics. Assessment of student progress should be based on multiple sources of evidence. State reporting systems caution against reading too much into a single score and against using assessment results for purposes that do not match those for which the assessment was designed.
Public understanding and support are especially important in the area of assessment. Educators face a number of challenges in developing and maintaining public support for new assessments. In some cases, students who score well on traditional assessments have not done well on new ones, resulting in opposition to the new tests. Because test development is so technical, the strategy of involving people so as to gain their ownership and support is problematic. New laws in both Texas and California incorporate non-educator involvement in test development; it is unclear how this will influence future directions in these states and in other locations. Public relations efforts to help promote understanding of unfamiliar assessment strategies are needed (NRC, 1997c).
States have an important role in providing resources, supporting, and encouraging local educators to build systems at district, school, and classroom levels to gather appropriate information from assessment for use in design and improvement of standards-based education for their students. This role can be played in different ways, from the more direct requirement for school plans based on data, to the support of professional development for teachers and administrators to learn alternative approaches to classroom assessment. At the national level, an action strategy for improving middle grades mathematics education is being developed simultaneously with the national eighth grade mathematics exam. This may prove to be an example of how assessment and a strategy for improvement can be linked.
5-E Promote teacher assessment and student self-assessment in classrooms, based on standards.
Both the NRC and NCTM assessment standards make a strong case for assessment in the service of instruction. Some of the issues involved are addressed by two NRC publications, Measuring What Counts: A Conceptual Guide for Mathematics Assessment (1993a) and Measuring Up: Prototypes for Mathematics Assessment (1993b), developed with contributions from NCTM leaders. These sources establish crucial research-based connections between standards and assessment, and provide examples of new assessment exercises that can be appropriately embedded in instruction. Because new forms of assessment, measuring the new learning goals represented in the Standards, are substantially different from teachers' common practice, professional development is crucial. Not only must teachers change their practices, they must also help their students, parents, and the community understand the purposes, procedures, and benefits of such changes.
To the extent that assessments drive instruction, assessments that provide authentic pictures of student learning can be important sources of both pressure and information for educators as they work to implement standards.