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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Assessment: What State and Federal Policy Makers Can Do

Steps state and federal leaders can take to ensure fair and equal assessment.
By Roberta Furger
Related Tags: Assessment,All Grades

The following are steps state and federal policy makers can take to support high-quality assessment that ensure accountability, while at the same time informing teaching and learning.

Support the development of tests that are aligned with state standards.

It is unfair to judge students, teachers, and schools on a test that doesn't correspond to the mandated curriculum. In his March 2001 Educational Leadership article, "Teaching to the Test?," UCLA Professor James Popham discusses the importance of refining and reprioritizing content standards, including the development of specific examples of what mastery of these standards looks like in terms of student performance. The next -- and critical step -- he argues, is the development of statewide assessments that reflect these standards.

Encourage colleges and universities to broaden their acceptance criteria to put less emphasis on test results.

In April 2001, the National Urban League called for colleges and universities to end their "obsession with the SAT." The national civil rights organization bolstered its argument for the use of alternative indicators of applicants' abilities with the results of a survey of top executives from the nation's Fortune 1000 companies. Ninety-six percent said standardized test scores are "not very important" to long-term success in business, and 91 percent of the 200 executives interviewed rated "character" the most important attribute for success.

Support the use of multiple measures to gauge the quality of K-12 teaching and learning.

Assessment and education experts agree that high-stakes decisions, such as promotion from one grade to the next or high school graduation, should never be made on the basis of a student's performance on a single test. High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation, published in 1999 by the National Academy Press, provides a detailed analysis of the role of standardized tests in judging student achievement and discusses the implications of their use in high-stakes decisions.

Support research into alternative forms of assessment, as well as the relative strengths and weaknesses of the standardized tests currently in use throughout the country.

In an interview with GLEF, National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts cites the rigidity of current assessments as impeding new teaching strategies, particularly in the sciences. He advocates for federal and state funding of comprehensive research into and analysis of today's standardized tests, along with the development of new, more holistic forms of assessment.

Resources

"A Better Balance: Standards, Tests, and the Tools to Succeed." This 2001 Education Week report addresses the nationwide standards and accountability movement. It includes the results of a survey of more than 1,000 classroom teachers, along with a comprehensive analysis of statewide practices with regard to standards, assessment, and accountability systems.

"Building Tests to Support Instruction and Accountability: A Guide for Policy Makers." This October 2001 report was prepared by The Commission on Instructionally Supportive Assessment and proposes nine requirements for statewide achievement tests.

High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation. Published in 1998 by the National Academy Press, this report provides a detailed analysis of the role of standardized tests in judging student achievement and discusses the implications of their use in high-stakes decisions.

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

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