challenges posed by the law by guiding them in making appropriate decisions in implementing it. The Committee on Title I Testing and Assessment was charged with assessing research on the use of testing and assessment for accountability purposes, examining the experience of states and districts in this domain, and developing a “decision framework that incorporates technical quality, effects on teaching and learning, costs and benefits, fairness, and other criteria for evaluating assessment strategies.” Our goal was to produce a practical guide for states and districts to use in developing the systems they were creating under the Title I law.
As we studied the research, examined our own experiences, and listened to testimony from state, district, and school officials, the committee kept in mind three underlying principles. First, the committee agreed that the purpose of assessments and accountability is to contribute to and support high levels of student learning, particularly for disadvantaged students who have lagged behind their more advantaged peers. Second, the committee agreed that the education improvement system should be conceived of and implemented as just that—a system. That is, the system should consist of a number of components, at various levels (classroom, school, school district, and state), each of which plays a role in measuring and contributing to student learning, yet which are interrelated, not separate from one another. Third, the committee agreed that a hallmark of the state and district systems should be continuous improvement, at all levels—for students, for teachers and administrators, and for the system itself. For these and other reasons, the committee developed criteria not for the one best system—which does not exist—but for systems that continually change and adapt to new knowledge and circumstances. States and districts need to continually monitor the effects of their policies and practices to ensure that they are attaining their goals. The committee's framework is appropriate for states and districts just starting out on redesigning their education improvement system, as well as for states and districts that have had redesigned systems in place for several years.
The provisions of the 1994 law carry with them an implied “theory of action” that suggests how implementing them will achieve the larger goal of improving student learning.
As we understand it, the theory of action underlying the 1994 law is relatively straightforward. The centerpiece of the system is a set of challenging standards for student performance. By setting these standards for all students, states would hold high expectations for performance; these expectations would be the same regardless of students' backgrounds or where they attended school. Aligning assessments to the standards would allow students, parents, and teachers to monitor student performance against the standards. Providing flexibility to