and other critical decisions about students, such as promotion and tracking. Even this traditional role for student assessment is often misunderstood and misused. (See High Stakes Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation [NRC, 1999a] for a careful analysis of the issues of high stakes testing that can have a major impact on students' lives.) When student assessment is considered as feedback, it is an effective means of improving student learning (Black & Wiliam, 1998) and the quality of teaching and the curriculum program. (See the NSES "Assessment Standards" [NRC, 1996b] for a discussion of the uses of assessment.) Of particular importance to this guide is the use of student assessment data coupled with other information in the evaluation of coherence and accessibility in the curriculum program.
Quality assessment for any of these purposes depends on the availability of effective instruments, procedures, and performance standards (see the description of performance standards on pg. 21 of this report), in addition to content standards. When performance standards do not formally exist, teachers must decide what it is that they expect students to know, understand, or be able to do. If district-wide assessment items are being developed, these become informal performance expectations.
The pervasive need for explicit performance standards that align with content standard expectations argues for inclusion of performance standards in the curriculum program. If these standards are not included in the initial design of the curriculum program, teachers and the assessment developers will need additional professional development to assist them in understanding how assessment tasks and scoring guides are developed and how performance standards are established.
Equipped with the ability to define and decide when a content standard has been met, teachers will be equipped to use assessment as a powerful means to improve their instruction and student learning.