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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
BOX 1–1Some Terminology Used in This Report
The cognitive sciences encompass a spectrum of researchers and theorists from diverse fields—including psychology, linguistics, computer science, anthropology, and neuroscience—who use a variety of approaches to study and understand the workings of human minds as they function individually and in groups. The common ground is that the central subject of inquiry is cognition, which includes the mental processes and contents of thought involved in attention, perception, memory, reasoning, problem solving, and communication. These processes are studied as they occur in real time and as they contribute to the acquisition, organization, and use of knowledge.
The terms educational measurement, assessment, and testing are used almost interchangeably in the research literature to refer to a process by which educators use students’ responses to specially created or naturally occurring stimuli to draw inferences about the students’ knowledge and skills (Popham, 2000). All of these terms are used in this report, but we often opt for the term “assessment” instead of “test” to denote a more comprehensive set of means for eliciting evidence of student performance than the traditional paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice instruments often associated with the word “test.”
dents, classrooms, and schools. And they help policy makers and the public gauge the effectiveness of educational systems.
Every educational assessment, whether used in the classroom or largescale context, is based on a set of scientific principles and philosophical assumptions, or foundations as they are termed in this report. First, every assessment is grounded in a conception or theory about how people learn, what they know, and how knowledge and understanding progress over time. Second, each assessment embodies certain assumptions about which kinds of observations, or tasks, are most likely to elicit demonstrations of important knowledge and skills from students. Third, every assessment is premised on certain assumptions about how best to interpret the evidence from the observations to draw meaningful inferences about what students know and can do. These three cornerstones of assessment are discussed and further developed with examples throughout this report.
The foundations influence all aspects of an assessment’s design and use, including content, format, scoring, reporting, and use of the results. Even though these fundamental principles are sometimes more implicit than explicit, they are still influential. In fact, it is often the tacit nature of the foun-