in school by making as clear as possible the nature of their accomplishments and the progress of their learning.


In this first chapter we embed the discussion of classroom and largescale assessment in a broader context by considering the social, technological, and educational setting in which it operates. The discussion of context is organized around four broad themes:

  • Any assessment is based on three interconnected elements or foundations: the aspects of achievement that are to be assessed (cognition), the tasks used to collect evidence about students’ achievement (observation), and the methods used to analyze the evidence resulting from the tasks (interpretation). To understand and improve educational assessment, the principles and beliefs underlying each of these elements, as well as their interrelationships, must be made explicit.

  • Recent developments in society and technology are transforming people’s ideas about the competencies students should develop. At the same time, education policy makers are attempting to respond to many of the societal changes by redefining what all students should learn. These trends have profound implications for assessment.

  • Existing assessments are the product of prior theories of learning and measurement. While adherence to these theories has contributed to the enduring strengths of these assessments, it has also contributed to some of their limitations and impeded progress in assessment design.

  • Alternative conceptions of learning and measurement now exist that offer the possibility to establish new foundations for enhanced assessment practices that can better support learning.

The following subsections elaborate on each of these themes in turn. Some of the key terms used in the discussion and throughout this report are defined in Box 1–1.

The Significance of Foundations

From teachers’ informal quizzes to nationally administered standardized tests, assessments have long been an integral part of the educational process. Educational assessments assist teachers, students, and parents in determining how well students are learning. They help teachers understand how to adapt instruction on the basis of evidence of student learning. They help principals and superintendents document the progress of individual stu-

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