George Lucas Educational Foundation

Assessment: What School District Policy Makers Can Do

Steps school district staff and board members can take to support high-quality assessment of teaching and learning.
January 21, 2002

The following are steps school district staff and school board members can take to support high-quality assessment that can be used to inform teaching and learning.

Advocate with state and federal policymakers for assessments that are aligned with state standards

As assessment expert and UCLA professor James Popham writes in his March 1999 article "Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure Educational Quality," the one-size-fits-all nature of today's widely used standardized tests creates considerable mismatch between what's being taught locally and what's being measured nationally.

Develop and promote local assessment programs

Although expensive and time-consuming to create, "homegrown" assessment programs provide school districts with the opportunity to measure student achievement in the areas and with the tools that are valued locally. These built-to-fit assessments also provide the greatest opportunity for diagnostic information that can truly inform further teaching and learning. In their 2001 brief "Balancing Local Assessment With Statewide Testing: Building a Program That Meets Student Needs," WestEd authors Stanley Rabinowitz and Sri Ananda discuss the importance of locally developed assessments and outline the major steps of this critical process.

Invest in technology to support and enhance assessment

Digital portfolios, handheld "real-time" assessments, and Web-based assessments are just a few examples of the ways in which new technologies can expand a school or school district's assessment repertoire. For information on electronic portfolios, including informative articles on creating student portfolios, appropriate software tools, planning considerations, and more, visit Dr. Helen Barrett's Electronic Portfolios Web site.

Use technology to assist in the analysis of test data

In Designing and Using Databases for School Improvement, Victoria Bernhardt details how databases can be used to organize and analyze assessment and other key student information as part of an overall school reform effort.

Empower teachers to create their own assessments

Utilize common planning time and staff development opportunities for this purpose. "Integrating Assessment and Instruction in Ways That Support Learning," a brief published by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, provides excellent suggestions on how a school or school district can involve teachers in all aspects of assessment design, implementation, and analysis.

Emphasize the importance of skills not measured by student performance on standardized tests

Now, more than ever, our schools must promote social-emotional learning -- that is, help students develop the critical interpersonal skills they'll need throughout their school years and beyond. Rutgers University Professor Maurice Elias discusses the importance of an ongoing commitment to social-emotional learning in his thoughtful September 26, 2001, Education Week essay, "Prepare Children for the Tests of Life, Not a Life of Tests."


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

The National School Boards Association. The NSBA, the advocacy organization for governance by local school boards, has published several reports on testing, accountability, and student achievement of interest to district policymakers.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's Pathways to School Improvement initiative features several articles and issue briefs on assessment, particularly the use of performance assessments in K-12 classrooms.

WestEd. WestEd is one of the ten Regional Educational Laboratories throughout the United States. It has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as the lead agency in the area of assessment.

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

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