ERIC Identifier: ED389959
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Roeber, Edward
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Emerging Student Assessment Systems for School Reform. ERIC
Currently, much discussion is taking place about the quality of American
schools, the skills needed by students, and the ways we should be assessing
these achievements. Student assessment is viewed nationally as the pivotal piece
around which school reform and improvement in the nation's schools turn. For
example, student assessment is the key piece of Goals 2000, as well as other
federal legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
The result is that substantially more assessment is
likely to occur in our nation's schools, and to take place in areas
traditionally not assessed (such as the arts), using assessment strategies (such
as performance assessments and portfolios) not typically used. States and local
districts are reconsidering the models for systems of assessment and how
assessment at the state and local levels can be coordinated to achieve the
reforms desired in education.
WHY IS SCHOOL REFORM OCCURRING?
Widespread belief that
schools are not helping all students achieve at the levels that are needed, has
spurred efforts to reform our schools. Concerns have been raised that the ways
we teach students, as well as assess them, do not lead students to acquire
needed knowledge or skills, nor help them apply and use their knowledge and
skills appropriately. At the national and state levels, content standards
containing the types of knowledge, skills and behaviors now believed needed for
all students to achieve at high levels are being developed. Starting with such
efforts as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' Curriculum and
Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM,1989), content standards are
being developed in the arts, civics, economics, English, foreign languages,
geography, health education, history, physical education, science, and social
School reform is also motivated by the belief that there are competencies
needed for graduates to enter the workforce successfully. The Secretary's
Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills developed generic competencies and
foundation skills that all workers will need in the future (U.S. Department of
Labor, 1991). They include flexible problem solving, respecting the desires of
the customer, working well on teams, taking responsibility for one's own
performance, and continuous learning and have been developed to guide the
efforts of educational reform in the direction helping more students to make the
transition to work successfully.
Collectively, these standards represent substantial challenges for the
American schools. They imply that all students will need to achieve at much
higher levels. New strategies for assessment are also implied by these content
HOW DOES REFORM OF ASSESSMENT FIT SCHOOL REFORM?
assessment is at the top of the list of things to tinker with by policymakers at
the national and state levels, since it is viewed as a means to set more
appropriate targets for students, focus staff development efforts for the
nation's teachers, encourage curriculum reform and improve instruction and
instructional materials in a variety of subject matters and disciplines
(Darling-Hammond & Wise, 1985). Assessment is important because it is widely
believed that what gets assessed is what gets taught, and that the format of
assessment influences the format of learning and teaching. (O'Day & Smith,
1993). The hope of policy makers is that changes in assessment will not only
bring about the needed changes in students, but also in ways schools are
organized (Linn, 1987, Madaus, 1985). Interest in performance assessment has
also been justified on the basis that using such measures will promote
educational equity (National Center on Education and the Economy, 1989). Student
assessment carries a heavy load these days!
Of course, outside pressure external on testing programs can be ignored or
resisted by local educators (Smith and Cohen, 1991). There is also ample
evidence of the distortions in teaching that external testing programs can
create (Shepard & Smith, 1988). Rather than encourage reform of teaching,
inappropriate teaching to the test may occur (as opposed to teaching to the
domain covered by the test). Rather than creating opportunities for all students
to learn to high levels, even new forms of assessment may lead to tracking and
limiting opportunities for some students (Darling-Hammond, 1994; Oakes, 1985.)
Assessment reform should occur along with professional development,
instructional development, and other strategies designed to assure that all of
the changes are mutually supported. Coordination of assessment reform at the
national and state levels with assessments at the local level is also important,
so that each will present a coherent view of student performance, not simply be
TYPES OF ASSESSMENTS
New content standards may require
different assessment methods. Among the assessment techniques now being
considered are short-answer, open-ended; extended-response, open-ended;
individual interviews; performance events; performance tasks in which students
have extended time; projects; portfolios; observations; and anecdotal records,
in addition to multiple-choice exercises. A broader repertoire of techniques is
increasingly being used.
SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES
The information about student
achievement needed at various levels of the educational system is different.
Parents have different needs that teachers, who in turn, have different needs
than school principals. District administrators need broader, system-wide
information, while at the state level, there is concern about equity across
districts and identification of state priorities. Nationally, policy makers are
concerned about differences between states and how competitive American students
are with their peers in other countries.
Improving student achievement can take place at each of these levels.
Teachers work with an individual student in a classroom, or revamp
classroom-wide instruction based on an assessment. At the school level,
educators use school information to set long-and-short-range objectives and
decide how to accomplish these. At the district level, educators target
particular areas of the curriculum for attention. At the state level, incentives
for improving instructional programs may be most important. School reform occurs
at all levels of the educational system.
USEFUL ASSESSMENT DESIGNS
Typically, student achievement is
measured with available student test data, often using information from district
or state testing programs. Information collected less formally in classrooms is
not typically included in school improvement plans, even though such information
could provide valuable insights into student learning.
The nature of information needs should form the basis for an assessment
design. In a top-down model, policymakers develop an assessment design that
meets their needs, hoping the data may be useful by persons at lower levels. An
alternative is to build the assessment system needed at the local level,
aggregating the information upwards to the district, state and national levels.
Another model, based on the assumption that multiple approaches will allow
different users' needs to be met, is to develop a comprehensive assessment
system using different assessment formats to meet different users' needs.
Various assessment strategies can be implemented together at the different
levels to provide for the different information needs in a coordinated, coherent
manner (Darling-Hammond, 1994).
For example, local districts can adopt a portfolio system for improving
instruction, while the state carries out matrix-sampling across important
standards. The information collected by the state can become part of the
student's portfolio, thereby strengthening the portfolio's quality. The state
could also provide opportunities for teachers to learn to score the open-ended
written and performance assessments, thereby enhancing teachers' capabilities of
observing and rating student performances in their classrooms.
In this case, the elements of the system at the different levels build on and
support the elements at other levels. It is also anticipated that information
collected at the different levels can be reported in a more understandable
manner, since the same standards apply in different ways. This assessment model
enhances the reforms of schools so many desire.
This is indeed a time when American schools are
being challenged to provide opportunities for students to achieve at much higher
levels. Assessment is viewed as one of the essential elements in assisting
schools to address the standards now deemed to be important in a manner that
will help all students to achieve them. The major challenge for assessment is to
implement these additional assessments in a coordinated manner so that the
amount of assessment is supportive of the changes needed, not overly burdensome
to teachers or students. Models for coordination assessment at the state,
district and classroom levels appear most promising.
Darling-Hammond, L. and A. Wise (1985). Beyond
standardization: state standards and school improvement. Elementary School
Journal, 85, 315-36.
Darling-Hammond, L. (Spring, 1994). Performance assessment and educational
equity. Harvard Educational Review, 64 (1): 5-29.
Linn, R. (1987). Accountability: The comparison of educational systems and
the quality of test results. Educational Policy, 1(2): 181-198.
Madaus, G. (1985). Public policy and the testing profession-you've never had
it so good? Educational Measurement: Issues and Practices, 4 (1): 5-11.
National Center on Education and the Economy (1989). To secure our future:
The federal role in education. Rochester, NY: Author.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Curriculum and evaluation
standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author, 1989.
Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. New Haven:
Yale University Press.
O'Day, J.A. and M. Smith (1993). Systemic school reform and educational
opportunity. In S, Fuheman (Ed.), Designing coherent educational policy:
Improving the system. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pages 250-311.
Roeber, E. (1992). 1. Developing the comprehensive assessment system: A. top
down, B. bottom up, C. both, D. none of the above. Paper presented at the 1992
Education Commission of the States Conference on Large-Scale Assessment.
Shepard, L.A. and M.L. Smith (1988). Escalating academic demand in
kindergarten: Counterproductive Policies. Elementary School Journal, 89,
Smith, M. and M. Cohen (September 1991). A national curriculum in the United
States? Educational Leadership, 49 (1): 74-81.
U.S. Department of Labor (1991). Secretary's commission on achieving
necessary skills. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.