Including students with disabilities and English-language learners in assessments also poses significant challenges. Although state policies vary widely, many states exclude large numbers of students with disabilities and English-language learners from assessment mandates. Others include such students but use measures that may not be appropriate.
States and districts should develop clear guidelines for accommodations that permit students with disabilities to participate in assessments administered for accountability purposes.
Similarly, states and districts should develop clear guidelines for accommodations that permit English-language learners to participate in assessments administered for accountability purposes. Especially important are clear decision rules for determining the level of English language proficiency at which English-language learners should be expected to participate exclusively in English-language assessments. English-language learners should be exempted from assessments only when there is evidence that the assessment, even with accommodations, cannot measure the knowledge or skill of particular students or groups of students.
In an education improvement system, data from assessments provide information that teachers and administrators can use to revise their instructional program to enable students to reach challenging standards. For that reason, assessment results should be reported so that they indicate the status of student performance against standards. To ensure accuracy, reports of student performance should include measures of statistical uncertainty, such as a confidence interval or the probability of misclassification. States, districts, and schools should disaggregate data to ensure that schools will be accountable for the progress of all children, especially those with the greatest educational needs.
The theory of action of the basic standards-based reform model suggests that, armed with data on how students perform against standards, schools will make the instructional changes needed to improve performance. Research on early implementation of standards-based systems shows, however, that many schools lack an understanding of the changes that are needed and lack the capacity to make them. The link between assessment and instruction needs to be made strong and explicit.
One way to forge such a link is by monitoring the conditions of instruction and instructional support. Information about the effects of instructional change—particularly student work that shows the quality of assignments—sends a strong signal about the kinds of changes needed and the impact of new practices. In addition, such information serves as “leading indicators” of performance.
Schools and districts should monitor the conditions of instruction—the