About Dialogues |
Briefing Book |
Emerging Modes of Delivery, Certification
EMERGING MODES OF
The number of standardized tests being used to assess student learning in
California’s public schools is increasing rapidly. Moreover, the surge in
student testing is likely to continue unabated for the foreseeable future.
President Bush’s agenda for reforming the public schools, known popularly
as “Leave No Child Behind,” will require California to annually
administer more standardized tests, at more grade levels grades, in more subject
areas than ever before. If the increase in state and federal assessment
activities is to be useful in informing the design of educational programs
intended to improve student learning, their results must be made available to
teachers, students, and parents on a timely basis. Such is not the situation
In many instances, the time lag between administration of a
standardized test and release of the results is greater than six months. Few
teachers ever get back test results on their students early enough to modify
their teaching strategies. This delay, particularly in light of the availability
of relatively inexpensive networked database technologies, is inexplicable.
Today, standardized tests are auditing devices, not instruments of educational
practice and improvement.
The problems afflicting standardized testing
programs stem not only from the tardiness of their results, but also from their
design. Many tests continue to focus on those aspects of knowledge that can be
captured in the multiple-choice format. The National Research Council’s
Committee on the Foundations of Assessment has recommended that the current
generation of standardized tests be abandoned. The Committee recommends that the
next generation of these tests provide the information needed by teachers to
track the learning progress of their students at a higher level of detail than
is currently provided by today’s assessment instruments. Such detailed
information would allow teachers to give their students information and guidance
on what they need to do to improve their academic performance. The Committee
also argued that such assessment instruments would better serve the paired goals
of educational equity and excellence.
Three trends show promise of being
able to significantly improve current assessment practices. The first is new
research on cognition and learning, particularly findings on the critical role
timely feedback plays in fostering productive learning. The second is
development of computer-mediated instructional materials that incorporate
sophisticated embedded assessment capabilities, and the findings that these
capabilities foster adaptive learning activities. The third trend is the
emerging generation of distributed database technologies, which can used to
gather, analyze, sort, and disseminate assessment results quickly.
Working Group agrees with the findings and recommendations of the National
Research Council. It is therefore recommended that the State take action to make
its assessment programs more flexible, accessible, and responsive.
- A more flexible assessment system would permit teachers to receive timely
customized reports, illuminating the learning performance, trends, and unique
needs of their students. A more flexible system would also make similar
information available to students and their parents, in easy-to-use formats they
can jointly use to improve student learning.
- A more accessible assessment system would take into account the diverse
range of students attending the public schools, including English language
learners, students with disabilities, and students with other special needs.
Many of these students are ill-served by current assessment practices.
- A more responsive assessment system would tie information on student
learning performance more closely to the subject matter standards adopted by the
California State Board of Education. This combination of performance and
curriculum information would help students better prepare themselves for college
and other postsecondary educational opportunities. It would also provide
postsecondary education institutions baseline information on the relationship
between the content standards and the academic performance of entry-level
Collectively, these changes would produce assessment
policies and practices that would be more student-focused, learning centered,
and supportive of school improvement.
- Institutions should assess and document instructional innovations,
outcomes, and achievement.
Practice-oriented research and documentation can serve as valuable tools and
can support decisions to continue or discontinue current practices. This
information may also be used as a basis for allocating funding and/or State
incentives. Schools often are not provided with specific resources for this
activity, but it should be a priority. A priority should also be placed on
disseminating ‘best practices’ for potential replication.
- The State and local education agencies should assure that accountability
expectations and measures for assessment and testing are made public and
understandable for all participants in the system. Any assessment used for
‘high-stakes’ decisions and consequences should have measurement
validity and reliability, and should reflect the level at which knowledge and
skills are gained from appropriate instruction.
High-stakes testing impacts learners by driving
decisions that have important consequences for each student’s future:
promotion, retention, graduation, diploma awards, and possible postsecondary
placements. State and local education agencies should ensure that any
examination used for high-stakes consequences for individual students actually
measures what it is intended to measure for all students. The State must
therefore ensure that all students have equal access to the core curriculum,
regardless of the location of the school district or school, and that the core
curriculum is accurately reflected in the test content. When tests are used in
making educational decisions for individual students, they should accurately
measure the student’s abilities, knowledge, skills, or needs in ways that
do not discriminate or violate federal law on the basis of the student’s
race, national origin, gender, or disability.
The following principles,
which embody research recommendations and ‘best practices’ developed
by the National Research Council, CRESST, and the National Academy of Sciences
Board on Testing and Assessment should apply to any testing that has
consequences for individual students, institutions, or systems:
There is a fine line between using multiple test and
assessment measures to make sound educational decisions for students and
over-testing learners to meet accountability requirements.
tests are claimed to measure content and performance standards, analyses should
document the relationship between the items and specific standards or sets of
standards. To the extent possible, language assessments should be used to
measure academic performance against standards, and English assessments to
measure growth in English proficiency.
The validity of measures that have been administered as part of an
accountability system should be evaluated and documented for the various
purposes of the system.
Evidence of test validity for students with different language backgrounds
should be made available publicly.
Speakers of languages other than English should have appropriate assessments
based on language and English proficiency.
Standards set for passing or passing at different levels of proficiency
should be made clear. In particular, the justification for different ‘cut
scores’ should be made on the basis of validity evidence.
- The State should encourage schools and postsecondary institutions to use
test results from one set of instruments in multiple ways to avoid over-testing
learners, although high stakes decisions about student placement and promotion
should not be made on the basis of a single
Commentary: Students are required to take a
multitude of assessments, many of which cover the same subject matter, thereby
making more sense to combine assessments than to duplicate items. Especially
with the passage of the new federal Leave No Child Behind (the reauthorized
Elementary and Secondary Education Act), the State risks turning schools in to
assessment centers. The State must be careful to develop assessments and tests
that are robust and not duplicative. To support innovative non-duplicative
results, the State should encourage establishment of a cross-segmental forum for
sharing effective practices and ensuring assessment and testing
A combination of measures should be used to assess students,
- Standardized achievement instruments, such as SAT 9 or SABE
- Standards-based proficiency tasks based on academic
- English proficiency assessments for English learners.
- Teacher assessment, such as report cards and classroom
Coordination, Cooperation, and
State should encourage creation, by 2005, of a digital learning portfolio for
each learner that would allow the student to move through a variety of
coordinated delivery systems, regardless of the provider.
Commentary: Assessment addresses both the needs for initially
placing students in appropriate programs and measuring growth and success in
meeting standards-based programs. As policy-makers and learners are evaluating
their investment in education, it is time to use technology to facilitate and
enhance the assessment process. Technology provides an important tool for
meeting the accountability requirements in state and federal law when teachers
and administrators measure student learning, modify instructional services and
strategies to meet learner needs, and help learners take control over their own
educational experience. With a coordinated data collection system among the
education segments, learners can move within a seamless coordinated delivery
system of services to meet their education needs.
Coordinated information systems would provide
students easy access to their own academic records.
adult continuing education system includes technology in its assessment and
accountability systems. However, its current data collected on adult continuing
education students is incorporated into unique software systems that
unfortunately do not ‘talk’ to each other. One data collection
system specifically responds to the data elements required for the federal
funding available from the Workforce Investment Act, Title II; some, but not
all, of the data points in the other predominant data systems correspond to the
items collected for federal reporting requirements. Collaborative efforts need
to focus on standards for common data collection elements, a data dictionary
with a common definitions of terms, and processes to share the information
generated among agencies; these collaborative efforts would result in an ability
to define the needs of current populations as well as forecast future
populations and needs.
Member comments: Student confidentiality
must be assured and protected. Parent and student access is essential to
assuring quality control in individual digital learning portfolios.